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  • Capital’s SEARCH program aims to help students with special needs become career ready

  • Bayhealth, the Capital School District and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation have formed a partnership designed to help students with cognitive disabilities gain job training and work experience through internships.
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  • Bayhealth, the Capital School District and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation have formed a partnership designed to help students with cognitive disabilities gain job training and work experience through internships.
    This new program, Project SEARCH, will kick off at the beginning of the next school year. Students with special needs, between the ages of 18 and 21, who have completed the credits required to graduate high school will be given the opportunity to spend their final school year participating in three 10-week internships at Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital, with job coaching provided by the Department for Vocational Rehabilitation.
    “The vision for the program is that students will have a strong resume and a skill set, which will make them marketable in a competitive job market,” said Joyce Denman, supervisor of special education for the Capital School District.
    SEARCH is the final prong of a three-part program called Students Transition to Adult Readiness (STAR). The first prong of the program works with middle- and high school-aged students. Middle school students work to develop skills that will help them to have an independent lifestyle, while high school students participate in mini-internships that last for about an hour, two to three times a week.
    The second prong is a program for 18- to 21-year-olds who are still students but are not age appropriate for the high school setting. Those students attend classes held in the education building at Wesley United Methodist Church.
    The final segment is Project SEARCH, which will be the exit-year program for students involved in STAR, Denman said.
    Rather than attending classes at Wesley United Methodist, students in Project SEARCH will spend from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday on the Kent General campus. Students will spend a portion of their day in a classroom learning life skills and job skills from a job coach, before spending roughly four hours working.
    Students will be assigned to individual departments and will complete tasks such as mail delivery, patient transport and equipment sterilization. Students will eat lunch with their co-workers and at the end of the day will return to the classroom for reflection and journal writing. There will be between 20 and 30 different tasks for students to choose from, Denman said.
    “For ten weeks they will focus on one job and become very good at it,” she said.
    Students will be supervised by the manager of their respective departments at Kent General and by the two job coaches from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The coaches will have more presence in the beginning and will then provide the students with a bit more freedom as they begin to master their jobs, Denman said.
    In order to qualify for Project SEARCH, students must sign a form agreeing that this will be their last year as a student. The student must have independent living and hygiene skills, be able to take direction, have previous work experience and be able to use public transportation after undergoing travel training, Denman said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Students will apply in the next several weeks and interviews will begin in April. By the end of April acceptance letters should be sent out. During the program’s first year, between eight and 12 students are expected to be accepted, with 10 to 15 entering the program the following year.
    Capital School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas said the program opens up a number of opportunities for students.
    “It’s an opportunity for these kids to get job training and be able to transition, we hope, into a pretty normal life for themselves as they move into the adult world,” Thomas said.
    This training is an opportunity for students who otherwise may not have the chance to live fully independent lives, Denman said.
    “Right now what happens is many of our students end up being in shelters or adult day care centers,” she said. “They’re just hidden away from the mainstream. It doesn’t make them happy and it’s not fair for them.”
    Offering students job experience through SEARCH will help reduce placements in shelters and adult day care centers and allow students to be productive, Denman said.
    “I’m looking forward to our students with disabilities being embraced in the job market, rather than overlooked or not considered,” she said.
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