UF has partnered with area schools and the Blanchard Valley Center to launch Project SEARCH, a program for high school seniors with disabilities. This is the first year for Project SEARCH in Hancock County, and it’s taking place on UF’s campus.
Project SEARCH, an Ohio-based and internationally accepted program, has been successful at more than 200 locations around the world. In this program, each student participates in a one-year unpaid internship designed to help students with special needs acquire skills necessary for entry-level employment and for life after graduation.
For Hancock County’s first year with Project SEARCH, six students from area high schools are working in various departments on UF’s campus, including postal services, maintenance and housekeeping.
With the assistance of a teacher from the Hancock County Educational Service Center and two job coaches from Blanchard Valley Industries, the students will rotate through on-campus departments during the academic year in order to gain skills through three different internship experiences. Each workday starts with one hour of class where students learn life skills such as budgeting, voting, nutrition and more.
“It helps to learn how much money I have and how much I need,” said Taryn Bregel, Project SEARCH student.
The day continues at the job site, where students work on core skills from data entry to housekeeping.
“I like everything,” said Bregel. “It’s a good experience for me and people my age.”
This work-based learning promotes problem solving, an adult thinking process, teamwork and social relationships for each student. They all interview for their internships and follow the same job requirements as any other employee.
“We instruct the students on how to perform job tasks,” said Nichole Callicut, Project SEARCH teacher. “We will then pull away from that role and shadow their performance to ensure they stay on task.”
As the students develop additional skills, it is key to keep a steady pace in the work environment.
“From a postal services standpoint, the program has gone extremely well,” said Tony Wenzinger, director of postal services. “The students have picked up the various daily tasks quickly and have been a great help.”
In hopes to continue Project SEARCH in Hancock County, the ultimate measurement is taken when the students complete the program and enter the work force.
“Having this internship experience on campus will prepare these students for the world of work,” said Connie Ament, Blanchard Valley Center superintendent. “This is critical for them to be successful in a job in the community once they graduate.”
For more information about Project SEARCH, contact Ament at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Sarah Foltz