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High school deli run by students with disabilities builds confidence as they prepare for life after graduation

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Posted at 7:34 AM, Sep 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 08:34:52-04

GALLATIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Gallatin High School CDC teacher helped her students with disabilities open a deli to teach life skills and help them obtain a job after they graduate.

"They may not go out here and have to have the Pythagorean Theorem, but they're gonna have to know how to greet somebody, they're gonna have to know how to make change. They're gonna have to know how to pay for things that they want in this world. So those skills are what's key to making sure they're successful once they leave us here," explained Gallatin High School CDC teacher Tabithia Graves.

Graves developed the deli idea and opened it with her students in the 2021-2022 school year.

"We wrote a grant to the Chamber of Commerce here. Chamber of Commerce gave us more than we asked for. And with the help from the community in the chamber, we were able to open the deli," Graves said.

Green Wave Deli, affectionately named after the school mascot, is open on Tuesdays and allows students with disabilities to learn how to cook food and then serve it to teachers who purchase it throughout the school.

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Gallatin High School CDC Teacher Tabithia Graves

"Some come into this not knowing how to speak or don't think they know how to speak it. It was the vision that they are going to be defined as their name, not about their ability or their disability," said Graves.

Part of her CDC class is teaching about counting and dealing with money.

"Money is big for anybody. But money is something that no matter your age, no matter your disability, no matter how long you're on this earth, you're going to need money and know how to deal with money," stated Graves. "So watching them come out of that shell and be able to count back money and take money and be uncomfortable with that and be right on the money. That's, that's what it's about."

One of her students who has autism said the game of learning about money is one of her favorites.

"I love to play this game we play called the budget game," said Gallatin High School junior Valerie Suddarth.

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Gallatin High School Junior Valerie Suddarth

Suddarth was in the first class to help with the deli.

"[Mrs. Graves] wanted people who don't—who are like me to be able to learn about adulthood and learn how to count money and just learn how to serve and be able to go to classrooms and deliver and deliver to them," stated Suddarth. "I've learned a lot from the deli."

The skills she has learned extend beyond cooking.

Suddarth explained, "Because I am just grown up and I know how to walk down the hallway by myself and just be able to get my backpack and get stuff I need by myself without people telling to do, when I just do it just in my brain."

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A Gallatin High School CDC teacher helped her students with special needs open a deli to teach life skills and help them obtain a job after they graduate.

Graves said in addition to her goal of helping her students learn skills that will help them earn jobs once they graduate she hopes the deli helps those outside the special needs community drop the labels they place on people like her students.

"You hear often that comes before the child's name that comes before the word child and I wish people would understand that just because they have a disability, just because they are labeled with something because they need the extra support absolutely does not mean that that child or that individual is incapable of anything," said Graves. "They're capable of anything they put their mind to and they're capable of anything that we help them do and become successful at."

Graves said a year into the deli, the students are already changing minds.

"CDC teachers in general, been told, on several occasions that we're just educated babysitters," explained Graves. "And so for some of those teachers to be able to see that these children aren't just children that are dropped off for us to babysit, but they actually learn things that they're actually going to be something in this world has been one of the biggest heartwarming things for me because they see it. They see us and they know that these children are individuals too."

To apply to be a special needs teacher in Sumner County, click on the careers tab.

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Tabithia Graves helps each of her students who work in the Green Wave Deli decipher why to use certain utensils to help them learn life skills in the kitchen.