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Milton Hershey School Theme Homes Help Students Perfect Skills

Residents of two Milton Hershey School student homes share a common interest in saving lives.

Student home Union Canal and student home Grant have been designated as first responder theme homes for the 2023-24 school year. In their first year, theme homes group students with similar talents, skills, classes, and schedules so their schoolwork can be reinforced. Twenty-one of the school’s 180 student homes are classified as theme homes. Senior Division students and their housemates share passions such as emergency services, visual and performing arts, and athletics.

Rodney and Amy Sonderman, houseparents of student home Union Canal, believe theme homes help them better focus their attention on students’ needs because they share interests. The students also gain leadership skills by helping each other achieve breakthroughs.

“The kids who are doing very well can be challenged and pushed farther,” Sonderman said. “The ones who are struggling, we can pick up and push farther.”

Rodney Sonderman also serves as deputy chief of the Hershey Volunteer Fire Department. Some of students in his home also volunteer with the department.

“Having student volunteers serve as junior firefighters gives the adults the opportunity to focus on the fire while the students carry ladders and open hydrants,” Rodney said.

The students’ work is also a benefit to the MHS community. Eleventh-grader Jaydiel Garcia has received two life-saving awards for helping students experiencing a medical emergency. For Garcia, the experience has given him the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong goal.

“Since I was a little kid, I really inspired to be a first responder and help people. Now that I am a part of first responders theme home, it makes me feel great that I’m here to help people,” said Garcia.

Student first responders also serve as parking attendants during major campus events and as fire drill marshals.

Alexandra Gonzalez, a 10th-grader, aspires to be a chef. She also hopes to help her community as a volunteer first responder, and believes her MHS education is properly preparing her for both plans.

The Sondermans are in their 25th year of houseparenting at MHS. They believe the new theme homes will give them the opportunity to make a larger impact on their students’ lives.

“If I go back and look at the hundreds of graduates we have had, the ones we have had the most impact on are the ones who were involved with the fire department,” Rodney said.

Learn More about Home Life at MHS

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.