Governor Ivey sips coffee at the thirsty tiger

Greenville High School roared with tiger pride on Wednesday when Governor Kay Ivey stopped by to check out the Thirsty Tiger coffee shop inside the school. 

The shop is the brainchild of teacher Michele Thigpen. She saw a need, and decided to fill it.

The official opening happened back in November. 

Thigpen said, “We open it a couple of days a week for the teachers. Our students usually work in the morning. When we have a special occasion for the school, we’ll open it up at night.” 

Wednesday was certainly a special occasion for the students working at the coffee shop. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey stopped by to not only visit with them, but to try out their delicious brew.

Everyone was excited to see the Governor and get to spend some time with her during this busy campaign season.

Vivian Atkins Gates, a student at Greenville High and daughter of Dale and Cheryl Gates, conducted an interview with the Governor. She asked several insightful questions and left us all with Ivey’s best advice, “If you don’t have something nice to say about somebody, don’t say anything.”

The students were pleased that Governor Ivey stopped by to visit with them and see their new shop. Ivey took the time to pose for pictures with not only the students but with those adults gathered around for this special occasion as well.

She spoke to each student and asked how they enjoyed their jobs. All grinned and told the Governor that they enjoyed working there.

“The coffee shop is run by the Special Education class,” teacher Donna Byrd said.

Next year, Thigpen hopes to have the shop hours built more into the students’ schedules. 

“My counselors already know about the number of kids that want to work here,” she said.

The shop gives these students practical, hands-on experience that they need to join the workforce when they leave high school.

“It’s like a regular job for these students. That’s why I wanted this room to look like a job and not just another class room,” Thigpen said.

“We ripped up the tile floor. We painted the block walls. The kids in the woodworking class built the countertops and the shelves. It really was a collaborative effort by the whole school,” Thigpen added.

“The students have cleanup responsibilities when it’s closed for the day.  And most importantly, they know that when they’re here, they’re not supposed to be on their cell phones,” Thigpen added. She said she notices this a lot at different places and wants her students to realize how important it is to be present at work and not have distractions.

“These are the soft skills that employers tell us they’re looking for in the workforce now, and we have to work on that,” she said.

Thigpen has been a teacher for 25 years now. While she does love her job, she said it’s wonderful to have something new to get excited about. 


But the project didn’t happen overnight. It’s been in the works since before the pandemic hit Greenville.

“When I’d go to different conferences around Alabama, I noticed that the larger cities had work programs for their special education classes. So, I asked myself why we didn’t have that in Butler county,” Thigpen said. 

Her big mantra for this project has been, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” But you have to know who to ask.

Thigpen got a one-time grant for this project from the Alabama Department of Rehabilitative Services. “That’s how we got the funding to start the project.”

“The city of Greenville has donated, and the Rotary Club, and yesterday I talked to the Kiwanis Club,” Thigpen went on to say. It seems everyone is just as excited about this project as she is.

Greenville High school Principal Jamie Howard said, “There’s teaching and learning going on here.” He’s quite proud of the work his students have done in helping Thigpen realize her dream of a class that will help her special education students who are underserved in our society have not only a better chance of making it in the real world, outside of the safety of the high school environment, but give them skills that will truly last them a lifetime.

If you or your organization would be interested in helping with this project, you can contact Principal Jamie Howard at (334)382-2608, ext. 2100, or his email at

Michele Thigpen can be reached at (334)382-2608 ext. 1910, and her email