The four high school students are part of a new relationship forged between Hancock High School and the local business community that is designed to give intellectually impaired kids work experience.
School officials were able to set up the program because of a new federal law that gives the students the right to have special education programs in their own communities, said Russ Miller, special education case manager at Hancock High School.
Special education students normally went to the Job Development Center in Smithsburg for job skill training, but Miller was worried the one-hour bus trip was causing kids to drop out.
Miller said he likes keeping the students in Hancock anyway because kids that grow up in the town typically stay there, and Miller figures the local setting will work best for the students.
The student's degree of participation is strictly up the business owner. Miller said school officials were careful about not shifting any of the responsibility of educating or caring for the students to the business owners.
Miller keeps a close check on the students during the day, and he goes over a checklist with each employer to determine how the students are doing with attitude, attendance, appearance and productivity.
At Pittman's IGA along Pennsylvania Avenue, Iden is hardly identifiable among the other workers bagging groceries. He kept a steady line of customers moving Thursday. He was paid for the first time over the weekend after he filled in at the last minute for a worker who couldn't come in, officials said.
"It's almost like a magical thing that happened down there as far as I'm concerned," said Miller.
"Nobody else was going to give him a chance. As far as I'm concerned he's doing a real good job," said store manager Kevin Ward.
At the Econo Lodge, 16-year-old Shank pulls sheets off beds, collects towels from the bathrooms and does other chores before maids clean the room. A maid enters the room and talks to him about how things are going.
"I keep them straight," said Shank, smiling at a reporter.
The four students, who started work Tuesday, are picked up by bus at the school at 9 a.m. and taken to work. They return to school at 1 p.m. for classes, Miller said.
Special education students are also placed into jobs at the Job Development Center, said principal Gary Hollandsworth. About eight students from the center are currently working, he said.