About a dozen juniors and seniors with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities are currently taking orders for the Easter-themed fruit and candy bouquets they will be handcrafting in the coming weeks, as part of their Candy Creations course at Middletown High School.
While most children are looking forward to the sugary bonanza that comes with Easter, a group of Middleton High School students are preparing to deliver some sweet treats of their own.
About a dozen juniors and seniors with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities are currently taking orders for the Easter-themed fruit and candy bouquets they will be handcrafting in the coming weeks, as part of their Candy Creations course.
“The students do everything from shopping for ingredients to assembling the orders to delivering the finished products,” said special education teacher Erin Trzcinski, the high school’s 2013 Teacher of the Year. “It’s all with the goal of teaching them the skills that hopefully will lead to their eventual employment and the fulfillment that comes with having a job.”
The Candy Creations class is one of six World of Work courses offered at Middletown High as part of the district’s Developmental Foundations Program, which provides educational opportunities to students facing the greatest learning challenges.
“While the vast majority of our special needs students are able to take courses in inclusive classroom settings, students in our Foundations program qualify for an alternative state assessment, in place of a diploma, due to cognitive and mobility needs,” explained Wendy Johns, the district coordinator for secondary special education. “But the program is still housed in a community school where the students can interact with their peers, including attending prom and walking in graduation ceremonies.”
All of the district’s Foundations students in ninth through 12th grades attend Middletown High, and some continue on to a similar program at Appoquinimink High School until they turn 21.
While the students enrolled in the program can take elective courses and occasionally a core curriculum class on a pass/fail basis, the main focus of the high school-level Foundations program is to prepare them for the next stage of their lives, Trzcinski said.
During the school year, the students might complete teachers’ copy machine orders, prepare morning snacks, empty classroom recycling bins, prepare take-home meals, fill grocery orders, or construct customized gifts in the Candy Creations course available only to upperclassmen.
“Between Valentine’s Day and Easter is definitely one of the busiest times of year for the Candy Creations students,” Trazcinski said. “We’ll probably take a few dozen orders between February and April.”
Once a week, students in the course board a district van and head off to a local grocery store where they purchase the ingredients needed to create their tasty bouquets, flower pens, gift bags and other items.
“Learning to make purchases is a big part of the program” Trazcinski said. “There are a lot of skills that we try to teach in the store that most people take for granted, such as how to find what you’re looking for, how to greet a cashier and when to give them your money.”
With their supplies in hand, the students then return to the school and begin assembling their wares based on detailed instruction sheets for each item. Later, they head out to various schools in the district to deliver the finished products.
“The prices, which range from $1 to $30, include only the cost of the materials because we’re trying to educate students, not make a profit,” Trazcinski said. “Unfortunately, we also aren’t able to accept orders from the community, mostly because we don’t want to overwhelm the students or try to turn this into an actual business.”
One way members of the community can help, however, is by encouraging local businesses to provide cooperative employment opportunities for students in the Foundations program, she said.
Former students have already gone on to win full- and part-time jobs at Middletown’s Amazon Fulfillment Center, Kohl’s, Walmart, and Acme, as well job shadowing positions at Walgreens, Willey Farms and Ruby Tuesday.
“Our goal is for our students to live as independently as possible, and that includes finding gainful employment,” Trazcinski said. “But sometimes the hardest part can be finding companies willing to hire them.”
In the meantime, students in the Candy Creations course say they’re simply enjoying the experience.
“I like to learn and make things with the hot glue gun,” junior Rebecca Butler said. “It’s fun and maybe I can work in a restaurant.”
Fellow junior Mikayla Buterbaugh said she has similar aspirations.
“Someday, I want to have a job like my mom,” she said. “That’s why I like these classes, because we learn things like how to cook.”