Maritza Rivera, 19, suits up before going to the operating room to receive and deliver supplies at Novant Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Va. Project SEARCH allows students with disabilities from Manassas City schools to spend their last high school year in job training at the hospital instead of their regular school for job training. –Lexey Swall for Education Week
For many students with disabilities, leaving high school means an abrupt end to the supports that they and their families have come to rely on. Project SEARCH, a nationwide partnership between school districts and local employers, seeks to ease that transition by placing students in job-training opportunities, often in hospitals and government offices. Education Week reporter Christina Samuels and photographer Lexey Swall report on a program in Manassas, Va., for the 2015 Diplomas Count special report that examines life after high school for students with disabilities.
Lakisha Hogan, 23, the first intern hired through Project SEARCH three years ago, stocks shelves at Novant Prince William Medical Center. –Lexey Swall for Education Week
For the past four years, Novant Health Prince William Medical Center has employed young adults from the 7,400-student Manassas, Va., district. A teacher from the district is on site to work with students in the program, which currently has positions for up to 10 students per academic year. The students have learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and autism.
Project SEARCH intern Andrea Sorto, 19, left, helps nurse Lisa Whitmer care for 3-day-old Brooke Woods in the neonatal intensive care unit. –Lexey Swall for Education Week
The hospital internships are unpaid, but otherwise the students are treated like regular employees–wearing uniforms, clocking in and out, and taking breaks with the other employees in the hospital. They work preparing patient rooms, stocking supplies in the emergency room, managing medical records, and transporting patients.
“This program definitely helps the students figure out exactly what they like to do,” said Nicole Nakamura, a Manassas teacher who works with the Project SEARCH participants.
Project SEARCH intern Demetrius Wade, 18, waits to transport a patient. –Lexey Swall for Education Week
Project SEARCH intern Demetrius Wade talks to Lamonte Wright, a cardiac sonographer, after transporting patient Robin Richards. –Lexey Swall for Education Week
Several of the students have been so successful that they’ve seamlessly transitioned into full-time employment at the hospital.
“We’ve really seen students become adults overnight,” said Emily Gephart, the director of employment services for Didlake, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that contracts with the state of Virginia to manage Project SEARCH in Manassas. “Along with having disabilities, some have pretty challenging socio-economic barriers working against them. This is the first time they’ve been held accountable for a job.”