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Reptile expert Mark Layton visits Lancaster-Lebanon IU13 classrooms

02/12/2017 Lancaster Online By Alex Geli

As a child, Mark Layton admired “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.

Layton often scoured the forest, with a headlamp affixed to his forehead, catching frogs for hours at a time.

At 16, he started working as a housekeeper at the Refreshing Mountain Retreat & Adventure Center in Stevens, hoping one day he could work around wildlife.

Layton later used money from his savings to move to Australia for two and a half months. There, he interacted with snakes, lizards, toads and — yes — crocodiles.

At 24 years old, Layton is now the nature program coordinator at Refreshing Mountain, living out his dream of working with reptiles and sharing his knowledge with others.

His mantra: “Never stop dreaming.”

Layton told his story Friday to about 20 students in the school-to-work program at the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13. He taught them about relationships, passion and self-determination.

“Does anyone want to touch or hold a reptile?” he asked following his presentation.

Nearly all of the students immediately raised their hands.

They then were introduced to Layton’s amphibian friends — an Eastern milk snake, Eastern painted turtle, a blue-tongued skink lizard, racer snake, ball python, black rat snake and a monitor lizard.

“I’m glad they could get a chance to broaden their horizons, said Gina Guatta, program supervisor for secondary transition programs at IU13. “To hear somebody’s story about turning his passion into work is valuable for any of our students.”

Chase your dream

The school-to-work program, created more than 20 years ago, prepares Lancaster County high school students with educational disabilities for the workforce.

Classes focus on strengthening academic, employment, independent living and social skills, Guatta said. Each of the three classrooms also has its own job trainer.

Many teens take jobs in food service, retail or at grocery stores — “basic entry-level positions,” Guatta said.

Many of the 31 total students were absent Friday because they were at work.

“I think it was fun to see everybody come together as a group,” said 18-year-old Cory Stiffler, of Elizabethtown.

Stiffler works as an associate at T.J. Maxx, packing and unpacking supplies, helping around the store and manning the dressing room, he said.

He also works at Masonic Village as a cook. Cooking, he said, is one of his passions.

“It’s something I’d like to do,” Stiffler said. “I’d love to go to college for that.”

He also would like to attend school for law enforcement.

Shawn Tyson, of Columbia, also enjoyed Friday’s presentation, especially the snakes.

“I just have always loved them,” the 17-year-old said, adding how he and his friends often used to trek through the woods and catch snakes — with one downfall: “Got peed on a time or two,” he said.

Tyson is currently unemployed, but dreams of soon joining the U.S. Army.

“It’s just like snakes. It’s a passion,” he said.

Layton said he hopes to have inspired students like Tyson and Stiffler to chase their dreams.

“Everything he said was true,” Stiffler said. “Go for your dreams. Don’t give up. Keep moving forward.”

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