KINGSPORT — Bryan Kerns, a math and fire science teacher at Dobyns-Bennett High School, loves telling the stories of two Kingsport City Schools alumni who have been positively impacted by vocational technical education.

One is honors student Erin Calhoun, who has found her niche in fire science and is studying natural resources at Auburn University. She returned to help Kerns with instructions from time to time.

The other student became a plumber but graduated from high school through something called the Pulaski Club, a fire science group that’s the only one of its kind in the country that spun off into two classes CTE to DB.

This is the third school year for the classes, which have grown from 20 students in one class to 40 students in two. Kerns joked the club and prices “exploded” and “took off”, leaving him to work as if “fighting fire”. (End of free phrases.)

Bryan Kern


Kerns said the student who became a plumber was failing his Algebra II class as a senior, as well as English, and was on the verge of dropping out at the age of 18. But when the student saw a poster about the Pulaski club, he got his grades because students must have passing grades to be in such organizations.

The club focuses on “wildfire science” and its “role in natural resource management”. Each year, he visits a 900-acre farm in Virginia owned by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist, a physician who permits prescribed land burns and TVA burns. The club also participates in community programs at Bays Mountain.

“Long story short,” said Kerns, a 17-year-old math teacher, the student “is a graduate of Dobyns-Bennett.”

“He walked through the scene in May because of a fire,” Kerns said. “I tricked him into graduating.”


Claire Arbaugh, a teacher of more than 25 years at KCS, in February 2018 became the Workplace Learning Coordinator for the system. On February 8, she and Kerns gave the Board of Education a working session presentation on CTE in general, including work-based learning (WBL), and Kerns’ fire program in particular.

Arbaugh said WBL options at Kingsport range from automotive maintenance repair I-IV to fire prevention and suppression, as well as dual enrollment programs with Northeast State Community College.

Additionally, Kerns said he was working with Morristown-based Walters State Community College on a dual-enrollment program in fire science under a scenario where students would get double credit for a class that Kerns already teaches and up to 16 credit hours for a fire. associate of science degree offered at WSCC, one of two such programs in Tennessee.

Additionally, Kerns is working with Haywood Community College in North Carolina on a Forest Fire Management program, which plans to grant three college credit hours to the Pulaski Club that can be transferred to the Forest Management program. from the University of Tennessee.

Kerns also said dual enrollment of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) with NSCC in spring 2023 is for graduating students with an EMT certificate. Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said the Tennessee College of Applied Technology or TCAT Elizabethton opened nursing and building construction classes at the former Sullivan North High, future Sevier Middle School in the fall of 2024.


Arbaugh said DB is also working on industry certifications, including a certified associate’s degree in logistics and a ServSafe Food Handler this school year for culinary arts students. Other areas include six precision measuring instruments, automotive service safety and two fire science modules, S190 and S130.

Kerns said DB is the only high school in the United States to offer fire science modules.

However, WBL and CTE aren’t just about high school.

Arbaugh said work-based learning is K-12 at KCS, with guest speakers (think firefighters for elementary career days), business and industry tours, talks , job shadowing, work placements, cooperatives and recorded apprenticeships.

“It’s designed to be a win-win experience,” Arbaugh said.

At DB, juniors and seniors can benefit from hands-on training, as well as networking in a particular company or industry and developing a skill set. She said a college student recently determined cosmetology wasn’t for her after spending four hours a day doing her hair.

Arbaugh quoted the student saying, “I don’t know but that’s not it” when asked about her career plans. “And that’s OK,” Arbaugh said.


BOE member Melissa Woods said she knows a car repair student who “loves” his classes and “really found what he wants to do” for a career.

Board Chairman Jim Welch said CTE programs, including DB’s fire program, are “wonderful representatives of what is special about Kingsport City schools”. Welch said he was also proud of Kerns and Arbaugh, who were students in his American History class at Robinson Middle School.

Arbaugh said Bo Shadden, who runs the CTE program for KCS, was absent to attend a national meeting of CTE directors, but is the “visionary behind almost all of this”. Shadden won the Tennessee CTE Trailblazers Award at this meeting.

Moorhouse said state Rep. Tim Hicks has introduced a bill in the General Assembly that would extend Tennessee Promise scholarship money to the pre-college level, allowing it to be spent on high school certifications. The program provides up to two years of free college or TCAT tuition to eligible students using Tennessee Lottery proceeds.

Moorhouse said further legislation would allow work-based learning, once limited to one college credit but later expanded to three, to expand to six credits by “learning from experts in the field”.

Try the Kingsport Times News app today. Download here from Google Play and App Store.