Xavier Chapa finds his voice

Xavier Chapa uses his Nova Chat to communicate with the world.

By Paula Walter

The Tomahawk has previously reported several times on Xavier Chapa, a little boy who has suffered from multiples seizures, sometimes up to 80 a day, since birth.  Most recently, a vagus nerve stimulator was implanted in his chest that would give him a slight jolt in an attempt to halt these episodes.  Between adjustments in his medication and the new device, his family has noticed a reduction in the amount of seizures, but he was still having severe difficulty communicating.  In addition to being epileptic, Xavier is also autistic.
Despite being six years old, Xavier’s communication skills were minimal, at best.  According to his mother, Julie Chapa, his vocabulary consisted of just a few words that included night night, banana, help, Mama, O for his sister, Olivia, and hi.  “For years he wouldn’t even try to talk,” said Chapa.  Xavier attends all day kindergarten that is modified for his needs.  The classroom consists of six students and three teachers.
After waiting for one year to get approval from Xavier’s insurance company, he recently received a unit that he can use to communicate. “We were denied twice,” said Chapa. “We appealed twice and we then were approved.”  The device, Nova Chat, is a speech-generating unit that looks much like a small laptop that speaks for those who can’t.  “I think of it as a souped up tablet,” Chapa said.
According to Chapa, one of the best features is that there is an amplifier on the back so Xavier can be heard in noisy places.  “It’s important that he is able to be heard,” she added.
The device comes with its own carrying case and is used strictly for communication.  According to Chapa, there are lots of vocabulary files that can be chosen that fit Xavier’s needs.  He can choose just a picture, and the unit can also be programmed to show the picture and the matching word.  Eventually, it can be just a word for him to choose.  “The fact that we can customize it is amazing,” Chapa added. At first, Xavier would talk thru the device just one word at a time and he is now speaking full sentences with the help of Nova Chat.  “I knew he would pick up on it,” Chapa added.  Xavier is also beginning to talk without the device, and has added four new words in the last month, including “help please” as he was struggling to plug the charger in the wall.  “I know that sounds like nothing, but it’s great for him,” Chapa added.
Right now, there are approximately 12 to 15 buttons on the screen.  Xavier will tap a picture or a word that takes him to another screen with more pictures and words.  Xavier has been using a Kindle for years, and he has taken to Nova Chat like a pro. “We take it everywhere,” Chapa added.
One of Xavier’s favorite activities is eating.  While he was exploring on the Nova Chat not long after the unit arrived, Xavier said his first sentence all by himself thru the device, “I want, I need, I need cookies.” Chapa credits a lot of Xavier’s success to his teachers and aides in his all day kindergarten class.
Chapa has seen changes in Xavier in just the short time he has been using Nova Chat.  Recently he came to his mother on his own and stated, “I need a shower” thru his device.  In addition, Xavier uses some sign language.  “He’s getting it,” said Chapa.  According to Chapa, Xavier is not as frustrated as he used to be.  Recently, Xavier had an eye infection and it took his mother, father and sister to get the eye drops in his eyes.  Afterward, Chapa took the tablet over to him and asked how he felt.  “I feel sad,” he said.  It’s one of the first times he has been able to express in words how he feels.
“Never hearing your son and hearing what he has to say is a miracle,” Chapa said.  “It’s been amazing.“

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Monthly Column

February 2017

This month I announced “NextTennessee,” policy proposals to build and sustain economic growth and competiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

At the end of the day, there is no higher potential for providing more opportunity for our citizens than increasing access to high quality education.

This month we proposed that Tennessee become the first state in the nation to offer all adults access to community college free of tuition and fees. Just like the Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect would provide last-dollar scholarships for adults to attend one of our community colleges for free – and at no cost to the state’s General Fund. With the Reconnect Act, Tennessee would be the first in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – access to a degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

We also proposed the STRONG Act, Support, Training and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen. It is a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a bachelor’s degree at our public universities and colleges. If we can help our soldiers and airmen who protect us at home and abroad, I believe we should do it.

The second area our legislative proposals address is infrastructure. The Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunity for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act proposes cutting taxes by $270 million while addressing important infrastructure needs in our state.

The tax cuts include reducing taxes for individuals on groceries and the Hall income tax, and on manufacturers to make Tennessee more attractive to industries that may want to relocate or expand here.  We propose an increase of 7 cents on the gas tax and 12 percent on diesel fuel, which will mean road and bridge improvements in 962 projects in all 95 counties, both urban and rural. It will also mean $78 million annually in increased revenue for counties and $39 million annually in increased revenue for our cities.

Insuring the future health of our state is not just about roads and bridges. Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards. From the farmer and the accountant in West Tennessee whose businesses are stifled, to the East Tennessee student who can’t complete her schoolwork at home, a lack of reliable internet access is preventing too many rural Tennesseans, rural communities and our state from reaching its full potential. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act provides a reasonable, responsible path to improve access in a meaningful way through investment, deregulation and education.

Our plan allows Tennessee’s private, non-profit electric co-ops to provide retail broadband service and invests $15 million in grants and tax credits annually to help spur deployment in rural unserved areas. Of course, accessibility without adoption doesn’t accomplish very much, so we’re also focusing on digital literacy so interested Tennesseans can maximize the benefits of broadband.

We live in a world where if you have a strong internet connection you can just about work from anywhere. If we’re serious about putting our rural counties on a level playing field, then opening up broadband access is one of the largest steps forward we can take.

The Tennessee we can be provides not only access to opportunity but the tools to be successful. Good roads that take you to good jobs.  Broadband access to conduct and grow your business anywhere in Tennessee at the speed of the 21st century. A high quality education system that educates all.

We can do that in Tennessee. Because of the fiscal responsibility we have shown, the Tennessee we can be is a state with a safe and reliable transportation network that supports long-term growth, one of the best K-12 systems in the country and free access to a degree for all Tennesseans. And we can still be the state with the lowest taxes and the lowest debt.

For more information on these proposals, please visit www.tn.gov/nexttennessee.

Girl Scout Cookie Booths Are Open for Business

Local Girl Scouts are selling Girl Scout Cookies at booths across the southeast from February 24 – March19. Customers can enter their ZIP code at girlscoutcookies.org to find a list of local cookie booth locations, dates, and times. There is also a Cookie Finder available for both iOS and Android devices.

Girl Scout Cookies play a huge role in transforming girls into G.I.R.L.s (Go-getters, Innovators, Risk-takers, Leaders)™ while they learn essential life skills. The cookie program also helps girls earn money for activities and community service projects.

In 2016, the Girl Scout Research Institute worked to better measure the impact of the Girl Scout Cookie Program and understand the extent to which Girl Scouts develop essential business and leadership skills. Survey responses from 40,000 Girl Scouts, representing all Girl Scout levels and various regions of the country show:

  • 85% of girls learned how to set goals and meet deadlines
  • 88% of girls learned how to think through different choices and make decisions
  • 88% of girls learned how to count money, make change, and create and manage a budget
  • 85% of girls learned how to be comfortable talking to and being around new people
  • 94% of girls learned how to be respectful of others, take responsibility for what they say and do, keep their promises, and not lie to get out of trouble
  • Two out of three girls (66%) are developing all the above skills

Almost one million girls participate in the annual Girl Scout Cookie Program, generating nearly $800 million in sales during the average season. The entire amount of net revenue raised through the cookie program stays with the local council and troops.

On a diet? Donate to Operation: Appreciation, our council’s Gift of Caring program. The Girl Scout troop will receive the proceeds from your donation and the council will send the corresponding amount of boxes to the U.S. Armed Forces.


State highlights ways to build upon strong foundation to impact more students in future years

Tennessee Department of Education Showcases Positive Statewide Momentum in First Year of Read to be Ready 

State highlights ways to build upon strong foundation to impact more students in future years

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today celebrated the strong movement forward in year one of Read to be Ready, a statewide campaign with multiple initiatives focused on helping our youngest learners build a strong foundation in reading, and she shared successes and key practices from individual classrooms, as well as how the state is helping to take those to scale.

At an event in Nashville that brought together state leaders, educators, and community members, the Tennessee Department of Education released Building the Framework: A Report on Elementary Grades Reading in Tennessee, which provides recommendations to ensure Tennessee continues to move toward achieving its Read to be Ready goal for 75 percent of third graders to be reading on grade level by 2025. The most recent statewide assessment indicates that only 43 percent of students are proficient in reading when they leave third grade. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) shows that only 33 percent of Tennessee’s fourth graders are proficient in reading. This year’s TNReady test results for grades 3–8 are predicted to also show a proficiency drop as the state sets a new baseline from which to grow.

With the launch of Read to be Ready in February 2016, the department planned for a multi-year, multi-strategy approach to improving reading outcomes for our students.  This new report explores the meaningful action taken throughout Tennessee’s education system to support the goals of Read to be Ready. At the outset of the Read to be Ready initiatives, classroom observations in more than 150 elementary classrooms across the state showed that most educators had a narrow instructional focus on building students’ foundational reading skills—like phonics and word recognition—and little time was spent on equally necessary knowledge-based competencies, such as building vocabulary and listening and reading comprehension. Through Read to be Ready, the state is focusing educators on the integration of skills and knowledge-building as reflected in the state’s standards.

“Over the past year, we have seen a tremendous commitment to Read to be Ready across the state, and now we want to build on this enthusiasm to go deeper with teachers and strengthen instructional practices. The results of this report are both encouraging and a reminder about the work that lies ahead,” Commissioner McQueen said. “From the beginning of Read to be Ready, we have known that these deep and meaningful instructional shifts in our standards will take time. As a state, we are committed to supporting our teachers in this work for the long haul.”

While improving statewide reading proficiency will take time, the report notes that meaningful outcomes have already been observed in response to the focus brought through Read to be Ready. Based on case studies of districts experiencing initial success, the department offers takeaways for districts to improve literacy in their schools:

  1. System-level change is most likely to occur when there is a district-wide commitment to the work.
  2. Instructional improvement benefits from a specific focus and a commitment to iterative learning.
  3. District ownership and external expertise are not mutually exclusive.
  4. Individual programs should be aligned in support of the broader district improvement efforts.

Since the launch of Read to be Ready, more than 200 teacher-coaches and two-thirds of Tennessee school districts have participated in a coaching network that is designed to provide intensive support and professional learning opportunities for educators focused on early grades reading, and the coaching network is expected to expand in the next year. These reading coaches work directly with more than 3,000 teachers to improve reading programs and practices in schools across the state.

A second initiative, the Read to be Ready summer grant program, started last year with 20 summer camps that targeted rising first, second and third graders who were not on grade level in reading. The state departments of Education and Human Services are partnering to expand the Read to Be Ready summer grant program through an investment of $30 million over the next three years. As many as 10,000 kids in up to 350 programs are expected to be served this summer alone.

For more information on Read to be Ready, contact Paige Atchley, Read to be Ready program director, at Paige.Atchley@tn.gov. For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or Sara.Gast@tn.gov.

Spring travelers should take precautions against Zika virus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In 2016, 63 travelers returned to Tennessee infected with Zika virus. In each of those cases, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee medical community worked quickly to ensure the virus would not spread to others.

Many Tennesseans are now planning for spring breaks, mission trips and other travel to warmer locations where mosquito populations are known to transmit Zika. TDH reminds Tennesseans that mosquito bite precautions are vital to protecting their health and the health of others where they live, work, play and pray when returning.

“We are concerned some may assume Zika is no longer a threat to their health or a threat to others if they bring the virus home with them,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD.  “All travelers should know there is still no vaccine to prevent Zika and no drug to cure it. To prevent this harmful virus from spreading in Tennessee, travelers must protect themselves from mosquito bites, avoid unprotected sex with someone who may have the disease and report quickly to their medical provider if they suspect a Zika virus infection when they return.”

Zika virus can affect people differently.  Some won’t have symptoms or only mild symptoms that may include fever, rash, red eyes, joint and muscle pain and headache. These may last only a few days to a week.

In most people, the virus will cause little to no harm. Those at most risk from severe illness and complications from Zika infection are pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant, who may have a baby with severe brain defects including microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where the baby’s head is smaller than normal and a child may experience other health challenges, including physical and speech functions, seizures, hyperactivity, coordination problems and other brain and neurological disorders. Pregnant women should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and TDH recommendations to avoid travel to areas with Zika, be extremely cautious in avoiding mosquito bites if travel is necessary and abstain from any type of unprotected sex with a partner if they traveled to an area with Zika.

“All travelers should know the mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus can bite night or day, both indoors and outdoors,” said TDH Vector-Borne Disease Program Director Abelardo Moncayo, PhD. “’Fight the Bite’ strategies should include use of repellants approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Repellants containing 20 to 30 percent DEET, picaridin and IR3535 are safe for pregnant women when used as directed on the product label.”

Other mosquito bite prevention tactics include wearing long, loose and light clothing; not using items with fragrances that may attract mosquitoes and using permethrin-treated clothing.  Permethrin is a commercially available product that can be used to treat clothing to kill mosquitoes and other insects. Used properly it is safe and effective.

The CDC provides a list of locations where Zika virus is known to be spread at www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.

In addition to Zika virus, travelers should understand they may be at increased risk for other mosquito-borne illnesses, including dengue and chikungunya. There is no vaccine to prevent either of these diseases and no specific antiviral treatment. Both can cause severe pain.

“We don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm for travel, but we also don’t want anyone being harmed by a preventable disease,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner. “A little forethought and a few simple, inexpensive precautions by travelers to affected areas can help prevent diseases from being spread here when they return. So far we’ve been able to keep many diseases like Zika and other diseases that used to be significant threats in our state, like malaria and yellow fever, out of Tennessee’s mosquitoes, and with the help of travelers, we can continue that in 2017.”

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.

TN Fish and Wildlife Commission sets 2017-18 waterfowl hunting seasons; elects new officers

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission established the 2017-18 waterfowl and other migratory bird hunting seasons at its February meeting. The TFWC also elected its new officers for the coming year.

The actions occurred at the TFWC’s two-day meeting, which concluded Friday afternoon at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Region II Ray Bell Building.

The TFWC approved the TWRA’s recommendation to establish an operational Sandhill Crane hunting season. For the past four years, an experimental Sandhill Crane hunting season has been held in a limited area in East Tennessee. TFWC also approved the TWRA’s recommendation to expand the season statewide.

For the East Tennessee Sandhill hunting zone, there will be 1,200 tags issued to 400 hunters. For statewide, there will be 1,119 tags available at one tag per hunter. The East zone will have a hand-held drawing in early August while the statewide season tags will be issued by computer drawing at a date to be announced later.

The commission approved the TWRA’s proposal for a two-week shift in the American Woodcock season. The change moved the season from an October start to the second Saturday of November. Other traditional migratory game bird seasons will remain intact with only date changes and these will be posted on the TWRA website in early May.

There is a change in bag limits for Northern Pintails. There will be a reduction from two to one pintail daily. The black duck bag limit will see its first increase in more than 30 years going from one bird to two per day.

The commission had asked the TWRA to investigate the potential cost of implementing a big game harvest survey, and a tagging program that was once used statewide. The agency presented four tagging options with no action being taken.

The Information Technology Division’s 2016 Professional of the Year, Zainab Latiff, was introduced to the commission. She serves as a lead programmer analyst for the division and was chosen from three other quarterly winners.

Joe Benedict, Assistant Chief of Wildlife and Forestry, provided an overview of several alternative big game harvest tagging options and a harvest survey along with cost estimates that could be considered to achieve the goals of improved game check-in compliance and more precise harvest data.  The commission chose not to take action on any of the options.

Budget expansions passed by the commission included a five-year contract with the University of Tennessee for services of an extension wildlife veterinarian to address the growing demand of professional wildlife disease work. Also approved was a two-year increase in funding to Ducks Unlimited/Canada for wetlands restoration work that helps breeding waterfowl that migrate through Tennessee. In addition, other expansions were a black bear research project expansion in the Gatlinburg-Great Smoky Mountains National Park area, and another to accept funds from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for private lands habitat improvement for species of conservation concern.

The TFWC elected its new officers for 2017-18. Jamie Woodson (Lebanon) will now serve as chair. David Watson (Lookout Mountain) moves from secretary to serve as vice chair. Kurt Holbert (Decaturville) was elected as the TFWC’s new secretary.

Chair Woodson replaced Harold Cannon (Lenoir City) who served in the role this past year. He was presented a plaque of appreciation for his service as chairman.

The February meeting was the final for five commissioners who were recognized near the conclusion of the meeting. Along with Chairman Cannon, also concluding their appointments are Jim Bledsoe (Jamestown), Dr. Jeff McMillin (Bristol), Jim Ripley (Sevierville), and Trey Teague (Jackson).

William King Museum of Art presents ‘Home: One Family, 200 Years of History’

HomeImagePressRelease.inddABINGDON, VA – William King Museum of Art is pleased to announce the opening reception of Home: One Family, 200 Years of History on March 2, 2017 from 6 – 8 p.m.
In 1859, David Droke built a farmhouse in Piney Flats, Tennessee, as part of his carpentry apprenticeship. From that time onward, the house and its history have been passed down from generation to generation of Droke children who have lived in the house, worked the land, and remembered and added to the story of their family.  is exhibit traces the last two hundred years of Appalachia and America through the story of one family—from the Civil War to the Great Depression and beyond.  is house is our history— it’s American history, regional history, and family history but it’s more than that. It’s home.
The exhibit opens on March 2 and runs through July 10. Admission is free and the Museum is open to the public.
For more information on v Home: One Family, 200 Years of History, visit www.williamkingmuseum.org or call 276-628-5005.

Tennessee Disability Determination Services Ranked First in the Nation for Quality and Accuracy

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s Disability Determination Services Unit at the Department of Human Services is ranked first in the nation for quality and accuracy by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA).

Disability Determination Services (DDS) processes thousands of Disability Insurance Benefit (DIB) and Supplemental Security Benefit (SSI) applications each year through an agreement with the Social Security Administration. The highly detailed process requires coordination with medical and psychological professionals, the community, and other state and local organizations. The quality accuracy rating means all of the cases reviewed by SSA for quality assurance were processed correctly by Tennessee’s DDS.

“Congratulations to our DDS team for their continued focus on quality and accuracy,” said TDHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes. “We appreciate their commitment to getting it right for the Tennesseans we serve.”

Three Disability Determination Services employees received national recognition from the Social Security Administration for their exemplary service last month.  Nevein Ayoub was named National Adjudicator of the Year. Broderick Bayless and Olubunmi Olakunle were awarded a 2016 Associate Commissioner Citation.

“We’re very proud of our DDS employees for their hard work and dedication. To be recognized by the Social Security Administration multiple times for their commitment to accuracy, efficiency, and program integrity is an amazing accomplishment,” said TDHS Chief Officer of Program and Services Cherrell Campbell-Street.

In August 2016, SSA also recognized DDS employees for their contributions to effectiveness and efficiency with a People Responsibly Influencing Decision Excellence, or PRIDE Award. The Quality Assurance (QA) Streamlining Workgroup tasked with making the QA process more efficient and paperless consisted of Chris Allen, Jeremy Edwards, Stephanie Flick, Cristi Heughan, Sherry Holt, Kim Joseph, Marcella Morgan and Sheila Romines.

For more information on Disability Determination Services visit: https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/topic/disability-determination-services

Spring train excursion through the beautiful East Tennessee mountains

Hiwassee River Gorge Autumn TrainThe Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum is pleased to announce its Spring 2017 Rail Excursion through the scenic Hiwassee River Gorge in East Tennessee. Excursion date is set for Saturday, April 1, 2017. The excursion offers an opportunity to ride the rails through one of the most beautiful river gorges in the United States as the railroad tracks travel along the Hiwassee River. The rail trip will take a 50-mile, 3-1/2 hour round trip rail excursion along this beautiful river to the famous “Hiwassee Loop”.

The special attraction of the trip is traveling through the Narrows, where the Hiwassee River flows through rock channels, and the Bald Mountain Loop. The track actually passes over itself on a high trestle during a corkscrew climb up the mountain near Farner, TN. Tracks along this route parallel the river for most of its length, providing views of the lower gorge.
This will be a unique opportunity to ride on this historic railroad. The railroad was originally built to haul ore from the copper basin in Copper Hill, TN. Regularly scheduled passenger trains operated over this line until 1968; the last freight train traveled the “Old Line” in 2001. The Tennessee Overhill Association took over ownership of the rail line in 2004.

General Deluxe Coach seating is offered on this excursion, providing passengers with comfortable cushioned seats with large windows. Historic 1950’s-era diesel locomotives will pull the vintage enclosed climate-controlled coaches with rest rooms in each car. We are excited to offer seating aboard the luxury car “Algonquin Park” which offers two seating options: high-level Dome and comfortable Observation Lounge seating. Dome seating allows passengers a panoramic view of the passing scenery from high above the car. Observation Lounge seating gives passengers a unique view of the railroad over which we pass from the end of the car that will be on the rear of the train. Both seating options in the “Algonquin Park” provide passengers with the opportunity to experience the “glory days” of rail travel in the United States. Each option includes complimentary snack service.

Passengers will be asked to move from one side of the aisle to the other before the return trip to ensure that every passenger will be able to view all the scenery in secluded areas along the line. 

Snack items are available for sale on the train including: soft drinks, coffee, water, chips, crackers, and candy bars. Souvenirs are also sold onboard including: t-shirts, caps, and books.

Our trip will begin in Johnson City, TN at 7:15 am on the morning of April 1 at the Liberty Bell Middle School parking lot at 718 Morningside Drive in Johnson City, TN where passengers will board a motor coach to Etowah, TN. We will also pick up passengers at the Sleep Solution Mattress Gallery parking lot at 2030 E. Andrew Johnson Hwy, Greeneville, TN at 7:45 am as well as passengers in Morristown, TN at 8:15 am at the Expo Center parking lot near the exit of I-81 and US 25E. This year we have added a pickup in Knoxville, TN at at 9:15 am at the Walmart parking lot at 8435 Walbrook Drive, just off Walker Springs I-40/I-75 exit 379A . (A map will be included with tickets to your designated parking area.) Lunch will be on your own at restaurants in Athens, TN prior to boarding the train in Etowah at 12:45 pm for a 1:00 pm departure. The train will arrive in Farner, TN at 3:30 pm for a short layover, leaving Farner at 3:45 pm. Upon arrival back at Etowah, passengers will board their motor coach for the return trip home; anticipated arrival back at Knoxville is 6:45 pm, Morristown at 7:15 pm, Greeneville at 7:45 pm and Johnson City at 8:15 pm. The motor coaches will make a food stop (again on your own) during this return trip
Deluxe Coach Seating cost is $92.00 per adult and $82.00 per child (ages 2-12), Observation Lounge seating cost is $130 per adult and $120.00 per child (ages 2-12), and Dome seating cost is $160.00 per adult $150.00  per child (2-12)   Ticket includes train ride and motor coach to and from Etowah, TN. Meals are not included. To order tickets, send a check or money order (sorry, cash or credit cards not accepted) along with the number of tickets you’re purchasing to Spring 2017 Rail Excursion, Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum, P. O. Box 432, Johnson City, TN 37605-0432. A printable order form is available ON LINE at www.wataugavalleynrhs.org. Please be sure to tell us whether you’re boarding the motor coach in Johnson City, Greeneville, Morristown or Knoxville. For questions about the trip e-mail 
wataugavalley@embarqmail.com or phone our ticket office at (423) 753-5797 between the hours of 9am and 4pm Monday – Saturday, closed Sunday.


Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

With the onset of colder weather, the poison center learns of preventable deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. A common scenario is the family who uses a generator indoors to produce heat in the home. The generator creates carbon monoxide into the air that the family breathes and fatalities occur.

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is released from the incomplete combustion of a carbon containing substance such as gas, kerosene, wood or charcoal. Common sources include wood fires, gas generators, car engines, and charcoal grills. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless so it does not have properties to warn people that they are being exposed. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic flu-like symptoms except that the flu-like symptoms improve after the affected person leaves the area with the high concentrations of the carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide detectors can be used in the home as warning devices. Carbon monoxide detectors are not the same as smoke detectors and most smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide detector gives an alarm when the levels of the carbon monoxide in the environment rise. This alerts the people in the environment to leave the building and open windows to ventilate the area. Symptomatic patients should be evaluated by a health care provider. Do not operate any fuel burning appliances until the source of the carbon monoxide has been identified and repaired.

  1. Have a carbon monoxide detector in the house. The detector should meet the requirements of the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  2. Don’t use a generator or other gasoline-powered engines in an enclosed space.
  3. Don’t bring burning charcoal grills into the house.
  4. Make sure the chimney flue is clear before using the fireplace. Do not close the damper of the chimney until the fire is completely extinguished and the embers are cold.
  5. Don’t run or idle the car engine in the garage.

Additional useful information about carbon monoxide poisoning and its prevention can be found in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: http://www.cdc.gov/co/

History Harvest aims to preserve regional history of tobacco farming

JOHNSON CITY – This spring, the East Tennessee State University Department of History is sponsoring its first History Harvest, an effort to locate and digitally preserve documents, photographs, artifacts, and personal and family histories. The title of this year’s harvest is “Preserving Southern Appalachia’s Tobacco Heritage.”

From the early 20th century to the early 21st century, tobacco shaped the lives of the people of East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia, according to Dr. Tom Lee, ETSU associate professor of history. Tobacco growing, or culture, set a rural rhythm of planting, harvesting and marketing that regulated work and leisure over 13 months, for by the time the wagons, and later the trucks, packed with tobacco rolled into warehouses in early winter, farmers were already preparing seed beds for the coming year.

The rituals of tobacco growing and sales bound together the interests of country and city, not merely in a pattern of work, but a pattern of ideas and of living. So integrated into the lives of the people of this region was tobacco that it became part of the culture, giving form to celebrations like the Burley Festival in Abingdon, Virginia; the Burley Cubs minor league baseball team in Greeneville, Tennessee; or Johnson City’s annual football kick off of the opening of the tobacco marketing season, the Burley Bowl. Come winter, city streets and stores filled with shoppers flush with cash from the sale of the crop, and bills unpaid through the year were settled so that a new season could begin. Tobacco, it has been said, paid for many a country youth’s college, cars, and Christmas.

By the late 20th century, Lee says, economic and legal forces reshaped the tobacco landscape, and by the early 21st century, many tobacco growers had stopped growing tobacco. The seasonal patterns had changed, the community celebrations had been halted or were to be renamed, and the lingering signs of what had once been such a potent economic and cultural force in the region had begun to fade.

For several years now, Lee has been researching Southern Appalachia’s tobacco heritage. A native of the Tri-Cities, he saw the transition away from tobacco beginning and initiated his work in hopes of capturing some of the memory of the region’s tobacco heritage before it was gone.

The first step leading to the new History Harvest was a course designed and taught by adjunct faculty member Kim Woodring during the fall 2016 semester titled “Digital History: Preserving and Presenting the Past Digitally.”

The goal of the course was to provide a hands-on experience intended to familiarize students with the increasingly important assortment of digital tools, new media and methods used by historians to preserve traces of the past.  The course is connected to ETSU’s quality enhancement plan through the INtopFORM fellowship program.  The History Harvest is also supported through an Instructional Development Grant, which provided funding for some additional digital equipment.

For the History Harvest, individuals and families currently or previously involved in tobacco farming who have tobacco-related stories, photos, tools, baskets, setters and more to share are invited to contact the Department of History by Feb. 28.  The department may be reached by email at historyharvest@etsu.edu, by phone at 423-439-4299 (leave a voice message), or by mail at History Harvest/History Department, Box 70672, ETSU, Johnson City, Tennessee, 37614.

Those contacting the department are asked to share brief summaries of their stories and descriptions of memorabilia.  Several of these will be selected, and those who submitted them will be invited to the ETSU campus in April, when history students from Woodring’s fall course will use the technology of the present to preserve these memories of the past.

Students will digitally scan or photograph documents, images and equipment brought to campus.  All original materials will be returned, and participants will receive their own digital copies of their memorabilia

Following this collection, the department expects to have students construct an online exhibit with the results of the History Harvest and possibly construct a physical, traveling exhibit that could help share the story in communities across the region where tobacco once played so significant a role.  Participants would have the opportunity to loan their tobacco-related tools and equipment to be part of such an exhibit.

TWRA investigating shooting of two bald eagles

Bald Eagle as found on roadside in Meigs County. Credit, Chris Combs.

Bald Eagle as found on roadside in Meigs County. Photo by Chris Combs.

CROSSVILLE, — Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the shooting of two bald eagles in the Tennessee River Valley. The first injured eagle was reported on January 30 around 2:00 p.m. in Meigs County.  TWRA Wildlife Sergeant Chris Combs responded to the call and found the bald eagle alive, but injured off of State Route 68 near State Route 58. The female eagle was transported to the Avian and Exotics service at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center.  After examination, it was determined the eagle had been shot with size eight to eleven shotgun pellets. It was also determined the eagle had been shot up to one week prior to the report. Injuries sustained were incurable and the animal was euthanized.

The second eagle was reported after noon on February 1. TWRA Yuchi Refuge Manager Bernie Swiney responded to find the eagle on the side of Abby Lane, just north of Highway 60 in Rhea County. Swiney found the eagle alive but in poor condition. This bird was also transported to the Avian and Exotics service at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center. A suspected entrance and exit wound were found and thought to be caused by gunshot. Injuries sustained were incurable and the animal was euthanized.

Tennessee currently has 200 active bald eagle nests. Bald eagles historically ranged throughout most of North America. However for environmental reasons and a lack of regulations, their numbers dwindled in the 1900’s. Bald Eagles were placed on the endangered species list in 1978. Eagle populations recovered after changes in environmental practices and protection and the endangered status was removed in 2007. However, bald eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Violations of these statutes carry a maximum criminal penalty of up to $100,000.00 and/or one year in federal prison. State charges will also apply.

Bald eagles are biparental, meaning it takes both parent birds to raise young. Losing one eagle likely means failure of a nest. Wildlife Sergeant Chris Combs shared, “We are especially angered by these actions because it is nesting season. This is our national symbol and it’s an atrocity to see them senselessly shot.” Anyone with knowledge regarding these two shootings is asked to contact the TWRA, Region III office at 931-484-9571 or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at: 615-736-5532.


Feed backyard birds this season for the greater, global good

image001When you fill your bird feeders and put fresh water in the birdbath this season, you’ll definitely be giving your feathered friends a helping hand. But you could also be serving the greater good!

Take note of the birds that visit your yard, and you’ll be ready to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), Feb. 17-20, when thousands of people around the world will record information about the species of birds they see. The information backyard bird-watchers gather assists scientists in better understanding the movement of species around the globe, how well different species are — or aren’t — doing and how factors like climate change are affecting bird populations everywhere.

“We enjoy birdwatching and feeding birds because they brighten our backyards and entertain us with their antics, especially during long winters,” says Richard Cole, co-founder of Cole’s Wild Bird Products. “But birds also play an important role in maintaining environmental balance around the world. They pollinate plants, scatter seeds so new plants can grow, help control insect populations and recycle nutrients back into the soil. It’s critical for us to have a greater understanding of how bird species are doing around the world, and to do our part to help take care of them.”

What you can do

You can support bird populations year-round by making your backyard an oasis for birds. A few simple steps can get you started:

* Offer a variety of feeders; different species prefer different styles . Tube feeders are versatile and appeal to a wide range of bird species. They can also handle large (think sunflower) or small seeds (like petite mixes) equally well. Some birds prefer to cling to feeders while dining, rather than perch, so use a versatile Mesh feeder; or try a Bowl feeder, perfect for serving suet in kibble form, dried mealworms and fresh fruit. You can find a variety of feeders from Cole’s. Be sure to keep all feeders clean and in good condition to help prevent disease and injury.

* Serve a variety of birdfeed. In winter, seeds with a high fat or oil content are best for birds, so offer black oil sunflower seeds, niger, raw peanuts and suet. To attract the greatest variety of birds, try Cole’s Blue Ribbon Blend, which incorporates black oil sunflower seeds, sunflower meats, white proso millet and cracked corn. Special Feeder is a high-energy blend that also attracts large numbers of birds, with the perfect mixture of black oil sunflower, sunflower meats, black stripe, raw peanuts, safflower and pecans. Birds also need (and love) suet, Cole’s offers no-melt suet cakes, specialty suets and a seed and suet mix, Nutberry Suet, to help ensure birds get the fat stores they need to weather winter.

* Be sure to also offer birds plenty of fresh water; it can be very difficult for them to find unfrozen water sources in winter.

By feeding backyard birds and participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, you can be counted on to help protect the wellbeing of wild bird populations. What’s more, the work you do prepping your yard for the count will benefit you — and your feathered friends — throughout the year. For more information about birdfeed and how to attract birds to your yard, visit coleswildbird.com.

Making Men Better At Romance On Valentine’s Day And Every Day

The romance doesn’t drain out of a relationship overnight.

It’s a slow trickle over time.

“Counselors will tell you that the leaks in a marriage or love relationship are a hazard of daily life,” says Drexel Gilbert, author of 30 Days to Better Love: A Guide for Men (www.drexelgilbert.com).

“Careers, children, bills and a variety of daily responsibilities add to the problem, one drip at a time.”

As Valentine’s Day approaches, men everywhere are making dinner reservations and buying chocolates for their once-a-year-effort to be more romantic.  But as wonderful as Valentine’s Day is, there’s no need to wait for a special occasion to add sizzle back to a relationship, Gilbert says.  Men who haven’t given as much attention to their significant other as they should can reignite the romance at any time through simple and inexpensive actions.

“You don’t have to plan a European getaway to let your wife know how special she is to you,” Gilbert says.

Instead, she suggests:

• Give her flowers every day for a month. Women love to receive flowers even if some of them insist they don’t, Gilbert says. It needn’t always be a bouquet. It can be a single flower. It can be a flower picked from your own garden. “In a pinch, it can even be a daisy you draw on a piece of paper and leave with a sweet note on the kitchen counter,” Gilbert says.
• Sit beside her. If you’re sitting in an easy chair while your wife is on the sofa it’s time to make a move, Drexel says. Sit beside her as you watch television, entertain guests, read, talk or listen to music. “A psychologist once told me that a couple’s physical distance implies the level of their emotional distance,” Gilbert says. “He also said that couples who routinely sit beside each other are likely to be more affectionate in their relationship.”
• Talk to her. This one is exceptionally easy – or at least should be in theory. In reality, while a lot of talking goes on in relationships, it’s often about the kids, bills, chores, careers or car repairs. Gilbert suggests making a conscious effort to have more meaningful conversations. Watch a movie together and talk about why you did or didn’t like it. After church, talk about the sermon and how it might apply to your lives. As you drive down the road, turn off the radio and ask her opinion about something that’s important to you. “And the second part of that is really listen to what she has to say,” Gilbert says.
• Be a gentleman. “Somewhere along the way in the struggle for equality and the battle for respect in the workplace, we forgot that it’s still all right for men to be courteous to women,” Gilbert says. Open the car door for her. Hold her chair at the restaurant. Stand up when she goes to the ladies’ room and stand up again when she comes back. Hold the umbrella over her head even if it means you get wet.

“Putting the romance back into a relationship is not rocket science, but it does take effort,” Gilbert says. “You’ve got to try. If you’re planning any New Year’s resolutions, this would be the perfect one.”

You’ll (Heart) Cooking a Gourmet Dinner At Home on Valentine’s Day

It sounds so dreamy, doesn’t it – going out for a romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day?

Except it doesn’t always turn out that way. All too often the restaurant is crowded, the servers cranky and the “exclusive” prix fixe menu is limited and expensive. Not to mention that should you decide to get affectionate – you’re in a public place.

“There are so many advantages to dining in on that special night,” says Chef Blakely Trettenero, who writes about her culinary adventures on her blog, Everyday Gourmet with Blakely (www.gourmetwithblakely.com). “It’s more comfortable, less expensive and super exclusive, because you can have whatever you want – from the cocktails to the entrée to dessert.

“And what better way to show you care than to cook a fantastic meal for – or with – that someone special?”
If the idea of pulling together a fancy dinner on a weeknight (Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday this year), fear not. Trettenero says there are plenty of delicious recipes that will tickle your true love’s taste buds without taking hours to make.
Here are a few of Trettenero’s favorite romantic dishes:

Herbed Savory Palmiers
Perfect for Valentine’s Day – this pastry is heart-shaped!


1. 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
2. 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, minced
3. 4 cloves garlic, minced
4. 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5. 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
6. 1 tablespoon olive oil
7. salt
8. pepper
9. 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
10. 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese


1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees
2. In a bowl, add the finely chopped sundried tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped rosemary, chopped thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix until combined and set aside
3. On a lightly floured surface, slightly roll out your thawed puff pastry sheet and transfer to a cutting board
4. To the rolled out puff pastry add the sundried tomato and herb mixture evenly
5. Evenly sprinkle the top with the grated Parmesan and Gruyere cheese
6. Starting on one side, roll the puff pastry tightly, stopping at the middle
7. Roll the other side of the puff pastry tightly until you reach the middle
8. Cut into 1-inch pieces and place on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Put them into the oven and let them bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown
9. Once they’re baked, serve them warm
Baked Chicken Thighs with Tomatoes, Artichokes & Capers


1. 2 pounds chicken thighs (about 4 thighs)
2. salt
3. pepper
4. drizzle of olive oil
5. 1 medium onion, diced small
6. 3 cloves garlic, minced
7. 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
8. 1 teaspoon brown sugar
9. 1 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
10. 1 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
11. 2 teaspoons drained capers
12. 2 sprigs fresh rosemary


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, then preheat a heavy-bottomed pan with a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat
2. Use paper towel to soak up any extra moisture on the chicken. This prevents the chicken from getting golden brown when you sear it. Season both sides with salt and pepper and put the chicken in the preheated oil, skin side down
3. Cook the chicken until golden brown on one side, then flip to cook on the other side. You’re not trying to cook the chicken through, only brown it!
4. Once the chicken is brown on both sides, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate and set it aside
5. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain most of it, leaving only about a teaspoon or so in the bottom
6. Add the diced onions with a pinch of salt and pepper to the pan and cook for a few minutes until opaque
7. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute
8. Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan, scraping the bottom to get up any bits at the bottom. Add the brown sugar to the balsamic vinegar, stir to combine, and let it cook until slightly reduced, about 7-8 minutes
9. Add the can of tomatoes into the pan and turn off the heat. Use a knife to roughly cut up the tomatoes in the pan and then add the drained artichokes and capers. Give it a stir to mix everything together
10. Add the chicken thighs back into the pan, nestling them into the tomato mixture. Add the rosemary sprigs to the top and put the pan into the preheated oven uncovered
11. Let it cook for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through
12. Serve with a simple side and you have a gourmet dinner ready in no time.
Cherry Clafoutis


1. 2 cups pitted cherries, cut in half
2. 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
3. 3 eggs
4. 3/4 granulated sugar
5. 1 tablespoon brown sugar
6. 1/4 teaspoon salt
7. 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
8. 1 cup whole milk
9. 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
10. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11. Powdered sugar (optional)


1. The hardest part of this recipe is removing the pits from the cherries. I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I just get the pits out the old-fashioned way. I cut the cherries in half, twist the two halves to expose the pit, and take my knife and cut it out
2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
3. In a 9-inch buttered and floured pie pan, add the fresh cherry halves and slivered almonds
4. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, salt, flour, milk, almond extract and vanilla extract until completely smooth. Pour the batter over the cherries and almonds and put in the oven
5. Let the clafoutis cook for 35-45 minutes depending on your oven.
6. Take the clafoutis out of the oven and let it cool slightly. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Monthly Column

January 2017

This month we made a significant proposal to cut $270 million annually in taxes and keep our state’s transportation network debt-free for the next generation of Tennesseans. We call the plan the IMPROVE Act, “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy.”

This legislation would not only cut $270 million in taxes but bring the total number of cuts our administration has made and proposed since 2011 to $539 million. That’s roughly nine times more than any other administration. Tennessee’s taxes are the lowest in the nation as a percent of personal income, and we also have the lowest debt per capita. Yet we have invested – and will continue to invest – in K-12 and higher education.

But while we are a low-tax state per person, that’s not true for businesses. On the taxes on the value of a business, franchise taxes, we’re among the highest. So part of the IMPROVE Act is a change in the way we tax manufacturers. For businesses that make big investments and have a lot of employees, we currently tax them heavier than almost any other state.  Our proposal is to create $113 million in tax cuts in the ongoing budget to address that.

Manufacturing is important to our state, and it has a multiplier effect. For example, we have three major auto manufacturers in Tennessee – Nissan, Volkswagen and GM.  We have 914 auto suppliers. We want to encourage manufacturing because of all the jobs that follow it.

We also propose to cut the grocery tax from 5 percent to 4.5 percent. That will be a $55 million cut.  We have already cut the grocery tax from 5.5 percent to 5 percent, so that would be a total of over $100 million in cuts to the grocery tax we will have made.

Finally, we propose cutting the Hall tax 1.5 percent this year and another 1.5 percent next year, totaling $102 million over the next two years.

The second part of the IMPROVE Act addresses transportation infrastructure. Tennessee last addressed how we fund our roads and bridges in 1989 when the state raised the fixed tax rate to 21.4 cents per gallon of gasoline. Due to inflation, increases in construction costs and the cost of land and better gas mileage, the state comptroller estimates that 21.4 cents in 1989 is now worth approximately 11 cents a gallon. The money goes half as far as it once did.

We are proposing an increase of 7 cents per gallon in the road user fee for gasoline and 12 cents for diesel. Under our plan, the average Tennessee road user would pay an additional 4 dollars a month. We also propose increasing registration fees 5 dollars per car for the average passenger vehicle and a graduated amount for other vehicles, an annual $100 fee for electric cars, and a 3 percent additional charge for rental cars.  We propose that fuel taxes be indexed every two years to the Consumer Price Index, with caps so the tax rate can keep pace with the cost of construction and maintenance on roads.  We will also pay $135 million from the transportation fund to the general fund.

Our comprehensive plan will mean $278 million in new revenue to fund 962 projects in all 95 counties. The plan is balanced, with 52 percent of the projects in urban areas and 48 percent in rural areas and also provides an additional $78 million for counties and $39 million for cities for local transportation projects.

The IMPROVE Act is aimed at building and sustaining economic growth in our state’s competitiveness for the next generation. We have worked hard to reduce the cost of government, cutting taxes and recruiting jobs. This keeps us on that same path.

Tennessee Department of Education Outlines Path Forward for All Tennessee Students to be Ready for College and Career

New Report and Initiatives Build on Continued Work of Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise

NASHVILLE—Tennessee officials launched a renewed effort today to focus on students’ readiness for life after high school. At an event at Cane Ridge High School in Antioch that brought together state leaders, industry partners, educators, and students, the Tennessee Department of Education released the Seamless Pathways: Bridging Tennessee’s Gap Between High School and Postsecondaryreport, which provides recom­mendations to ensure Tennessee continues to move toward achieving its statewide goals for postsecondary completion set forth by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam through the Drive to 55 initiative.

Since the 2013 launch of the Drive to 55—the governor’s initiative for 55 percent of Tennesseans to be equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025—leaders and educators in K-12 and higher education have risen to the challenge of preparing more students for life beyond high school. To further these efforts, Tennessee has implemented a series of nationally recognized efforts aimed at helping high school students transition from graduation to postsecondary. These include providing financial support and mentorship through Tennessee Promise; sharing more guidance with students through AdviseTN; offering more early postsecondary opportunities and increasing the spotlight on students’ access to them through a new school-level accountability framework; and hosting focus groups with high school students to hear firsthand about their experiences. Additionally, Tennessee was named recently as a recipient of the highly competitive $2 million New Skills For Youth grant designed to build on locally and regionally led efforts through the statewide Pathways Tennessee initiative, which works to strengthen and expand education-to-career learning pathways for Tennessee’s students.

Even with this renewed focus, Drive to 55 remains an ambitious goal that will require the state to support and equip more high school students to be successful after graduation, especially as the job market increasingly demands credentials beyond a high school diploma.

“When you’re recruiting companies to Tennessee, you learn right away that conversations about economic development become conversations about education,” Haslam said. “Education isn’t K through 12, it’s K through J—kindergarten to job, and we won’t meet our Drive to 55 goals if we don’t succeed in K-12. We’re focused on getting students ready for college, into college, out of college and tying their education directly to workforce needs, and we’re seeing incredible results. Now we need to build on this success throughout our pipeline to make sure students’ high school diploma serves as a seamless passport into college and career success.”

“Tennessee is set to become the national leader in preparing students for the workforce of tomorrow.The opportunity to lead the nation is here. The opportunity to serve all students is here,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “The programmatic vision put into place by the Governor under Drive to 55, along with the aligned efforts of existing agency programs and priorities, has afforded Tennessee an opportunity to go further than any other state in implementing a seamless kindergarten-to-job approach for our students. And now, we have the ability to make research-based decisions about how to strategically invest our time, energy, and resources to maximize our students’ potential.”

Today’s release and launch event will help the department build on progress to date by highlighting where the state can continue to improve in K-12. Based on evidence presented in the Seamless Pathways report, the department offers four recommendations that districts, schools, and community stakeholders can employ to help students take advan­tage of postsecondary opportunities:

  1. Foster collective responsibility among middle and high school faculty and staff for the postsecondary prepared­ness of their students.
  2. Communicate with students about their postsecondary and career options early and often.
  3. Ensure all students have equitable access to course oppor­tunities to increase postsecondary readiness and success.
  4. Leverage external partnerships and resources for added capacity, expertise, and influence.

Today’s report acknowledges these efforts will take a tremendous amount of work and calls for significant support from all partners—from public officials to community organizations and foundations to educators and parents—to support our schools and students. As a complement to this call to action, last month the state’s Career Forward Task Force—a group of industry leaders, non-profit organizations, state agencies, advocates, educators, parents and students—released its next steps to help ensure the further development of seamless learning pathways that successfully transition students from high school to postsecondary education and the workforce, as well as its profile of what academic, technical, and employability skills a successful K-12 student should possess at time of graduation. Both releases make clear that though Tennessee has made notable strides, more must be done across local, regional and state levels to ensure all students are set up for lifelong success.

In addition to today’s event, which features the voices of high school and college students on their readiness for postsecondary, Commissioner McQueen released a blog on the department’s website outlining additional takeaways from the department’s research and how the state will continue to support this work. The full report released today is available on the department’s website. For more information about the department’s college and career readiness efforts, please contact Danielle Mezera, assistant commissioner of college, career and technical education, at Danielle.Mezera@tn.gov. For media inquiries, please contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or Sara.Gast@tn.gov.

Haslam announces Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced legislation to increase broadband access to Tennessee’s unserved citizens. Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards.

“From the farmer and the accountant in West Tennessee whose businesses are stifled, to the East Tennessee student who can’t complete her schoolwork at home, a lack of reliable internet access is preventing too many rural Tennesseans, rural communities and our state from reaching its full potential,” Haslam said. “While there is no one solution that can guarantee broadband accessibility to every single Tennessean, this legislation provides a reasonable, responsible path to improve access in a meaningful way through investment, deregulation and education.”

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, along with Haslam’s proposed budget, will provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. In addition, the plan will permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.

The legislation comes after a year of study and stakeholder conversations by the administration. In July 2016, the Department of Economic and Community Development released a commissioned study assessing broadband in Tennessee and options for increasing access and utilization. In addition, a draft report issued by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), which completed extensive work on the subject of broadband accessibility and adoption, significantly contributed to Haslam’s broadband proposal.

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is part of Haslam’s NextTennessee legislative plan aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans. The governor will announce additional proposals during his annual State of the State address to the General Assembly on January 30.

What Are The Secrets To A Long-Lasting Relationship?

Every Feb. 14, starry-eyed couples celebrating Valentine’s Day strive to find just the right setting to create a romantic night on the town.

But relationships are about more than candle-light dinners and slow dancing in the moonlight, and making them last beyond the initial infatuation is no easy thing.

“Under the best of circumstances it takes much love, devotion and especially an enduring commitment between partners to make a relationship work,” says academic D. Scott Trettenero, author of Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values (www.masterthemysterybook.com).

“Unfortunately, there is no rule book or instruction manual that guarantees success.”

An obvious reason is that conflict is inevitable because men and women look at and approach their problems from different perspectives.

“Men tend to use the left brain point of view which is characterized by thinking while women tend to be more right brain and feeling by nature,” Trettenero says.  “Men generally use logic and reason to make what they consider objective choices and decisions. Women generally use emotional values to make more subjective choices and decisions.

“It needs to be stated that one way is not better than the other.  But they are opposing in nature and when each side is entrenched in their conflicting way there will always be a lack or breakdown of communication. This is the number one reason that couples can have problems in their relationships which can lead to separation.

“One side may try to get their point across using facts and deductive reasoning while the other side is wanting their feelings to be acknowledged and understood. It happens all the time in a typical relationship.”

But despite the normal complications, Trettenero says, it is really possible to make things work and thrive. Incredible life changing benefits can come from a healthy relationship and this needs to be kept in mind during times of misunderstandings and conflict.

There are a few core concepts about human nature that are necessary to grasp as you try and seek harmony in your relationship.  These include:

• Feelings come and go.  Feelings can change over time, which means if feelings you have for another led you to fall in love, then other feelings could just as easily lead you to fall out of love if you aren’t careful.  It is important that the relationship not be based on feelings alone, but on a shared commitment to placing the relationship above one’s own personal desires.
• People change over the years.  People have the capacity to grow and evolve in a number of ways.  This is a healthy process of life but it doesn’t always work out that each partner is growing at the same pace or in the same direction.  This calls for both to be able to adapt and embrace the changes each may make.
• Conflicts will always be present.  The whole system of human interaction is perfectly created for conflict, and any relationship will never be immune to them. Conflicts of interest within a relationship can sometimes escalate into devastating and traumatic experiences.  But it’s possible to rise above or defuse these situations, Trettenero says.  It all begins with understanding yourself so you can be true to who you are.  It also means that you make sure that your significant other be true to themselves.
• With intention and commitment, everything can be overcome.  Conflict resolution in a marriage is one of the most important ways to make it or break it.  The best way to handle a disagreement is to try to find a way that allows both parties to feel good about the results rather than try to overpower the other.  Discuss each of your points of view and be sure to listen to each other while respecting their opinions.

“Trying to give advice on how to make a marriage work is tricky, especially when speaking in general terms, because what might work for one couple might be exactly wrong for another,” Trettenero says.  “One thing is clear to those who are married and want to remain married; communication between partners is critical and deserves equal attention by both.

Additional ‘Smart Steps’ child care payment assistance opportunities available across the state

The Smart Steps Child Care program is designed to partner with parents who are working or pursuing post secondary education to secure affordable quality child care

The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) announced additional Smart Steps child care payment assistance opportunities across the state to be a resource for income eligible parents who are working, pursuing postsecondary education, or a combination of both. The Smart Steps program is a part of the Department’s 2G for Tennessee initiative – a two-generation approach focused on both the child and the parent’s well-being.

Families are often faced with the difficult task and balancing act of juggling their household budget; work hours; and having a safe, reliable and enriching child care environment for their children.  More than 2,900 families have signed up for the Smart Steps program since its launch in June 2016 on a first come first serve basis. TDHS is now offering 2,100 additional slots in order to reach families in need of affordable quality child care across the state. These new slots will be available effective February, 1 2017.

“Smart Steps remains a game changer for parents working and/or pursuing educational goals in Tennessee,” DHS Commissioner Dr. Raquel Hatter said. “We are excited to expand this opportunity to more families to support their progress by providing access to affordable quality child care. Participating children are also enrolled in the Imagination Library. This new category of child care assistance is in alignment with the department’s 2G for Tennessee focus and Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55.”

Smart Steps is available to income-eligible working parents and parents pursuing postsecondary educational goals that have children ages six (6) weeks to five (5) years of age. Families that participate in Smart Steps are responsible for a portion of their child care costs or co-pay based on a sliding income scale. As part of the program, children will be enrolled in quality, affordable, child care facilities and the Imagination Library.

Smart Steps participants can choose from more than 2,400 DHS licensed child care facilities across the state. Along with independent research, parents can use tools offered by the department to assist in choosing child care. These include the find child care tool located on the DHS website, the Child Care Report Card posted in all licensed child care facilities, and the Star Quality Program, which recognizes providers that exceed minimum licensing standards.

Applications are available at DHS county offices or at:  http://www.tn.gov/humanservices/topic/child-care-services.

Space is limited in the program and will be awarded to eligible families on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information on the Smart Steps Child Care Payment Assistance Program please call visit http://www.tn.gov/humanservices/topic/child-care-services or call 615-313-3893.

To learn more about DHS’ two generation strategy, 2G for Tennessee, visit: http://www.tn.gov/humanservices/topic/2gen-approach.