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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Terrell Leeper first Dobyns-Bennett student in ETSU Access program


Terrell Leeper signed into the two-year Access ETSU Tuesday morning at Dobyns-Bennett High School.  Shown from left to right are Shelia Leeper, grandmother of Terrell Leeper;  Bucky, the East Tennessee State University mascot;  Terrell Leeper;  and Terry Davis, Terrell's father.

KINGSPORT — Terrell Leeper will forever be a Dobyns-Bennett Indian, a faithful football fan of his alma mater, but he’s about to become an East Tennessee State University Buccaneer, too.

Leeper, who will turn 22 on July 29, this fall will be the first D-B student to become part of the Access ETSU program, which will in a way be a continuation of his time in a transition from a school-to-work program at D-B.

He’s a special education student who dreams of becoming a security guard or working in health care.

The ETSU program will give Leeper classes and experience in his chosen areas of study. He signed to attend ETSU during a ceremony Tuesday morning in the Nancy Pridemore Theatre with faculty, staff, former classmates, and current students. ETSU mascot Bucky; Leeper’s grandmother, Sheila Leeper; and father, Terry Davis, also attended.

“It feels good Dobyns-Bennett supports me,” Leeper said after the event.

“I’m very proud. I’m trying to accomplish my goal of going to college and getting one of my dream jobs,” Leeper said, adding that he would like to be a security guard or possibly a paramedic.

“When he graduated, they didn’t have this program,” Ben Robertson, head of the Transition School to Work Program at D-B, explained before the event got underway.

Dr. Dawn Rowe and Daniel Scherer-Edmunds of Access ETSU said the two-year program provides young adults with intellectual disabilities a college experience similar to their peers. Rowe, director of the program, said Leeper will have a combination of courses and internships at ETSU.

Access ETSU students participate in all typical campus academic and student life activities. They also engage in high quality and fully inclusive work-based learning experiences aligned with their career interests, strengths and needs. Rowe said the program has two students now but by the fall is to have 14, including two Volunteer High School students.

“I think he is excited,” Davis said of his son, who took a campus tour about two weeks ago. “He seemed to love it.”

Davis said he’ll drive his son to campus from their home until Leeper is comfortable enough to bicycle there. Leeper said he also might ride a bus sometimes.

“Everyone knows Terrell,” said Jimmy Burleson, a special education teacher who taught him at D-B.

“My hope is Terrell is the first of many D-B students who get to attend ETSU,” Burleson said, adding that Leeper has more friends than anybody else he knows.

Sonja Bennett is one of those friends. She, her husband, and family take Terrell to D-B games and other trips from time to time.

“I love him so I’m very emotional,” she said during the ceremony. “I think that God kind of knew I needed him in my life.”

Assistant D-B Principal Richard Brown, who oversees special education, said the transition to work program grew from students going to a couple of businesses to a program with two teachers, five job coaches and more than 10 participating businesses.

“His dad said earlier he’s a handful of joy,” Barrett said at the ceremony. “ETSU is never going to be the same.”