Mr. D: Raising the Bar Higher
Key Factors to Mr. D’s Success
- Building long-term partnerships with employers
- Encouraging students to seek out natural supports in the workplace such as co-workers
- Adopting a team-based approach involving job coaches
- Challenging students with new tasks
- Offering students with disabilities a hands-on place to gain work skills within their organization
- Supporting the efforts of transition educators to provide strong job training
- Recognizing that young people with disabilities should have the opportunity to prepare for the workforce
Reflecting on his role as a transition educator, John DeJarnette remarks, “I kind of view my part of it as chipping away at a mountain, and that mountain is that of prejudice, ignorance.” John DeJarnette, more commonly known as Mr. D, has taught in Metro Nashville’s Community Based Transition Program (CBTP) for the last 12 years. With over 25 years of prior experience in the business world, Mr. D understands the value of work for young people with disabilities. As he emphasizes, work develops self-worth, independence, and self-discipline. Perhaps most importantly, it makes his students feel like they are a part of the community.
With his business background, Mr. D excels at building and maintaining relationships with employers. His students currently work at Bateman Foods, TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center, the Church of Christ Disaster Relief Center (where their classroom is located), the Nashville Zoo, Regal Cinemas Hollywood 27, Trevecca Nazrene University, and the Good Samaritan nursing home. Mr. D encourages employers, saying, “We just want businesses to give our kids a chance. We don’t want them to do anything extra special. Just allow them the opportunity to compete for a job and what they’re going to find is that they get good, solid employees.” He knows his students often raise the bar for all employees. They bring a strong work ethic to their job that serves as a model for their co-workers.
Mr. D is also quick to point out that the two job coaches with whom he works—Daryl Bobo and Tiffany McDaniel—are integral to his students’ success. Mr. D has been working with Daryl for 12 years and Tiffany for 11. Mr. D’s classroom is a true team effort. All three bring different strengths to the table to help their students, but they all share a common goal. The students feed off this positive team-based approach. Daryl remarks, “We basically try to see ourselves as a unit. Every morning, we try to be on the same page as far as what we’re going to do during the day.” These three educators value one another’s strengths, care about their students’ success, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
At the work sites, Mr. D, Daryl, and Tiffany work to strategically support their students. Tiffany describes their process for supporting students at the worksite: “We will model a task to show them how it’s done and then begin fading. One additional thing is that we allow the workers at the actual worksite to be a support for them. We try to pull ourselves out of the equation and have them asking someone who actually works at their site.” Once the other employees begin to work more closely with the students, Mr. D observes that the businesses begin to take a vested interest in the student’s success on the job, and co-workers begin to form relationships with them.
Mr. D and his team strive to continually raise the bar higher for their students. In fact, Mr. D says, “We don’t know how high is too high.” They are constantly challenging their students to take on new and more complex tasks. The team takes great joy in their work and their reward comes from seeing the students blossom on the job as new possibilities open up for them.