News & Media

Manheim Central’s ‘Next Step’ program prepares students for real-world work

05/31/2018 Lancaster Online By Junior Gonzalez

As thousands of students across Lancaster County take their final exams ahead of graduation, a small group of students are graduating directly into jobs.

Tyler Hornberger, 20, is one of those students. In fact, he began his intended career long before graduation.

Three times a week, Tyler wakes up bright and early to start his 7 a.m. cleaning shift at the Manheim Hampton Inn on Lebanon Road.

Tyler, who has Asperger’s syndrome, said he had no idea what he wanted to do prior to his participation in the Next Step program last spring.

“But now I feel like ...”

He paused.

“He feels like he found his home,” interjected Manheim Central transition teacher Diane Heistand. Tyler smiled and nodded in agreement.

On May 23, Tyler was one of six students to graduate from Next Step, a program at Manheim Central School District designed to help students with disabilities gain critical skills and experience needed to obtain employment beyond graduation.

Recently completing its second year, the program partners with more than two dozen area businesses to offer 10-week internships to qualified students with an intellectual disability and in an Individualized Education Program.

Job fields include manufacturing, hospitality and food service, with more on the way.

“Together, we’ve put in countless hours collaborating with local businesses,” said Heistand, who works with Robin Wentzel, a job trainer with Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13.

Most of the internships are paid and reimbursed through the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

The program is the first of its kind established by a Lancaster County school district.

Hands-on

When he wasn’t working, Tyler was often completing tasks at the Next Step House, which is located beside H.C. Burgard Elementary School in Manheim. Along with hands-on experience off campus, students are tasked with taking care of the house as if it were their own. Next Step House is much like a typical home with a kitchen and rooms upstairs for at-home exercises.

Students also learn how to properly wash and dry their clothing at a nearby laundromat.

Heistand and Wentzel help students craft job resumes and sharpen their interviewing skills. They lay the groundwork for students to gain experience and valuable contacts for future endeavors.

“They get us ready to go (out) on our own,” Tyler said of Heistand and Wentzel.

He eagerly recounted recent trips to the grocery store and picking out fruits and vegetables for a well-rounded diet.

“I didn’t know how to do that before,” he said.

His mother, Janet Hornberger, agreed.

“He does do his own laundry, he keeps his own room, packs his own lunch,” she said. “I’m not upset about that at all.”

School district officials contacted her last year about Next Step, suggesting that it might be a good fit for Tyler, she said.

“At first I didn’t think it’d be a good idea,” she said, because of prior issues Tyler had faced in a typical classroom environment. But soon after his admission to a first internship at Fenner Drives last spring, Tyler’s mom was convinced.

“I think it’s helped him a lot in his confidence and self-esteem,” she said.

When asked where he would be without the training in Next Step, Janet took a deep breath.

“I haven’t a clue,” she said.

Jobs are hard to come by for those with disabilities, according to federal employment data.

Only about 4 percent of the American workforce has a disability, according to federal employment data. People with disabilities have an unemployment rate of 8 percent — more than double that of individuals without a disability.

“I hope other school districts go ahead and get it into their programs because it’s beneficial to a lot of children,” Janet Hornberger said.

Mutual benefit

In the business-education collaboration, the feeling of help and appreciation is mutual.

Hampton Inn housekeeping supervisor Sully Limback said she’s noticed a significant improvement from Tyler compared to when he started last year — upwards of 90 percent.

“He tries to learn every day, more and more,” she said.

Limback had a pleasant working experience with the previous year’s intern, and with Tyler’s performance, she said she hopes to see another Next Step student enter the housekeeping staff next year and beyond.

As for Tyler, he said he’s excited to get back to the job he calls his “happy place.”

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