Germantown, Tennessee--September 10, 2018--Throughout the year, Houston Middle Principal Liz Dias and her team show appreciation for staff that go above and beyond to support the students at Houston Middle School. This year's first recipient is Sarah Huffman, GMSD Executive Director for Exceptional Student Education.
On a rainy morning, a small gathering of HMS staffers made a grand entrance at the District Office to surprise Huffman with a cake to show their gratitude for all she does for HMS and GMSD.
The Random Act of Cake Kindness [RACK] program was started to show appreciation to people for caring to make a difference. Liz Dias shares the cakes which are graciously provided by the HMS PTO.
Here's a little about Sarah Huffman for those that don't know.
Sarah Huffman is an exceptional leader who has helmed an incredible program. ‘Real World Job Training’ for our students with Disabilities began out of a partnership with Vanderbilt University. Germantown Municipal School District applied for a grant through the non-profit, Tennesseeworks. With these funds and support, our district partnered with the community and local city government to host a series of “Community Conversations”. These informal meetings and events brought our students, business leaders, local policy makers, outside advocacy agencies, parents, and educators together to discuss challenges and opportunities around the issue of increasing employable outcomes for our post-secondary students with disabilities. Simply put, these conversations began a three-year journey to reimagine a scope of instruction for our students with more severe disabilities who were either seeking a SPED or occupational diploma and to simultaneously prepare our local work force to accommodate for these bright young workers when they exit our program.
The First Year saw tremendous success as our business partnerships increased by 75%. The promotional efforts on the part of our school board and our city leaders helped to raise awareness around a crucial need for the specific student population. These participating businesses ranged from fitness clubs, to local churches and restaurants allow our students the opportunity to perform job tasks as a part of their school day. The district also facilitated the hiring of individuals with disabilities in multiple positions in the district; one as a teacher’s assistant in a first grade classroom and paid internships during Extended School Year in the summertime. For these efforts, the Ms. Huffman has been recognized by several advocacy groups in the form of awards and accolades.
From initial conversations, there were supports that our partners desired. Year Two brought about the creation of new positions, a Transition Coach and Assistant to specifically oversee the program. Even more excitingly Huffman and her staff finalized a contract with Baptist Women’s Hospital allowing work based learning to happen at their hospital, increasing the likelihood of employment for students who are working their way through the program. This program is being modeled across the country and is something our district is incredibly proud of.
As we begin Year Three, our teachers are continuing to strengthen instruction at the school, by adding new components like a coffee shop and bringing in office work from partnering companies. This instruction works in tandem with their community based learning to increase transitional employability skills. Huffman has also purchased GMSD’s first vehicle, a van that will make even more community based opportunities a reality.
Please take the time to view these media links—as they explain in much greater detail through the voices of our teachers and students how powerful these programs have been in our community.
Sarah Huffman and her team (both at the school and district levels) work tirelessly to ensure the success of this program and many others that increase the opportunities for students with disabilities that address the whole child--such as mixed ability social clubs, cheer groups and a band experience.