Ennis students learn life skills, one job at a time

Sometimes the best education comes through experience. Howard T. Ennis School students benefit every day from the work experience that Sussex County employers provide. As they prepare for a more independent future, students paused to thank the businesses that are helping them grow.

HTE hosted a Business Appreciation Luncheon on April 10 to thank 22 partner organizations.

“Our staff members are the ones who go to the businesses and train them. Our businesses are partners because they provide the space … they give us jobs,” said Dawn Ciccanti, HTE transition coordinator. “It gives our kids a chance to get some work experience.”

Although managed by Indian River School District, HTE serves all Sussex County students with significant disabilities.

From ages 14 to 21, students begin focusing on transition services. They learn life skills for living and working more independently as adults, while families find social services for after graduation.

Students visit for an hour or so each week. They are just training, not paid employees. Students can practice basic tasks, like cleaning, responding to a boss or employer, customer interaction and remaining focused in a busy atmosphere. 

Plus, the smorgasbord of jobs helps teens decide which tasks they enjoy — or don’t, which is equally important. Younger teens sample and rotate jobs, while older students focus on specific locations.

A few partnerships have even led to paid jobs for Ennis students.

This was a one-time special event to celebrate HTE’s many new partnerships, as well as the longtime employers who have been loyal to Ennis.

“A lot of them love our students,” but plenty of business owners might not see the students on a regular basis, or realize how important their participation is. “We want to show they’re leading the way for work-based opportunities for our students,” Ciccanti said.

The student Bell Choir performed an instrumental of “You Raise Me Up.”

Guest speaker George Tilson also provided some useful advice for students when networking: always ask if the person could provide any work experience; or ask if they could recommend someone else who might provide related education; and always say “Thank you.”

Students definitely shared their gratitude in a video presentation.

“Thank you, Redner’s, for letting me stock shelves. I enjoy it,” said Zachary Hurley. “And I really do like working at the Bethany Beach hotel.”

“I like to clean up Flex World. Thank you, businesses!” said Doniel Hernandez.

“I like doing crew work,” said Dominic Beverley.

“Thank you,” signed Hunter Mish.

Local partners included Atlantic Community Thrift Shop (ACTS), Bethany Beach Ocean Suites, Bethany Beach Holiday Inn, Black Duck, Chick-fil-A, East Coast Garden Center, Flex World Fitness, Georgia House, Grotto Pizza, Hickory Hill United Methodist Church, Hocker’s Supercenter, Marshall’s Milford Food Bank, Millsboro Lanes, Millsboro Post Office, Pizza King, Pizza Palace, Redner’s Market, Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding and World Gym.

Other partners included Indian River School District, Delaware Department of Education, Delaware Division of Developmental Disabilities, Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

“Our students love going out on work crews. They know that they are becoming confident and successful workers,” Ciccanti said. “None of this would be possible without you leading the way for a better future for our students throughout our community. Thank you all for what you do, and please keep leading the way.”

At Millsboro Post Office, students help clean and organize shipping materials.

“It’s a pleasure to be able to provide this [opportunity] for the students,” said Postmaster Frank McAroy.

“We look forward to them coming every week, and they help keep us organized,” said supervisor Kim Collins.

“They always come in with smiles, and they leave with smiles,” Collins said.

“High energy, willing to work and learn,” McAroy agreed. “You don’t see that every day” from traditional employees. “I wish more businesses would participate in this program.”


By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter