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Independence Program honors two of their own

Sawyer Robbins and Katlyn Wilson

PUTNAM COUNTY, TENN. – With the various graduations being held, and all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with those celebrations, there was a commencement of a different sort held recently in a classroom at Tennessee Tech. The Putnam County Schools Independence Program (IP) honored two of its own with senior certificates during an intimate ceremony in Matthews-Daniels Hall.

Sawyer Robbins and Katlyn Wilson were recognized for completing the Independence Program which serves qualified students ages 18 – 22 who have graduated from high school with either a Special Education diploma, Occupational diploma, or Alternate Academic Diploma.

“Putnam County has a great program for our students with disabilities,” said program instructor Vanessa Johnson. “The Independence Program has partnered with the Tennessee Tech Department of Education to foster a unique learning opportunity for our students.”

The partnership with Tennessee Tech has allowed IP students to be immersed in the college atmosphere. Students from TTU have been paired with the Independence Program through service learning, TTU clubs, practicum work, completion of observation hours as well as residency teachers. The IP students have a well-known school-based enterprise across the state where they sell their products at conferences and at Santa Workshop. They are involved in community service projects yearly and are well known at Cooking on the Square for their jambalaya.  

“The Independence Program has proven to be very successful throughout the program’s existence and multiple students have secured paid positions at businesses in the community,” said Sheri Roberson, the supervisor for special education in the Putnam County School System. 

“Putnam County is very fortunate to have the support and partnerships with Tennessee Tech and the businesses that allow us that have this program.”

Targeted students significantly benefit from the program’s focus on the development of work skills, supported or independent living skills, and assistance in accessing post-secondary programs, services, and/or vocational training. Although these independent living skills were a component of the CDC program they had in high school, they were combined with academics, fine arts, career technical classes, related services, and other aspects of the average high school experience.  

“Since these targeted students were returning after their senior year, we wanted a unique program for older students designed to meet their post-school outcomes as well as give them the college atmosphere experience that their same-age peers experience,” Roberson said.

“IP students work with student groups on campus, participate in TTU class practicums, as well as develop transition skills needed for ‘life after school,’” added Johnson. “One hundred percent of our students are employed in our community.”

Robbins works at Publix and will be helping with the Tennessee Tech football team this fall. 

“My favorite memories of the program have been with Mrs. Cindy (Johnson) and doing all the craft sales that we have done, eating, shopping, and riding the River Rampage at Dollywood,” said Robbins. “I would like to thank all of my teachers and my mom and dad for supporting me these last four years.”

Wilson, who works at Chicken Salad Chick three days a week, has also enjoyed her time in the program. 

“Some of my many memories of the Independence Program are making crafts, swimming class, and Mrs. Cindy taking me to work and growing up with her since she was my teacher in elementary school,” said Wilson. “I will miss everybody in my class.”

Sawyer Robbins

Katlyn Wilson