Project SEARCH’s goal is gainful employment that leads to independence in life
For students with a diagnosed disability, this internship program is a testing ground. More than one in three graduates are hired by Health First, but more find employment elsewhere in the community.
BREVARD COUNTY, FL – In smocks and badges, a class of Project SEARCH interns sit around a 3A conference table at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center and consider the merits of their work versus the classroom. class.
“At least when we get home we don’t have homework. And no big exams, ”explains Michelle Servedio.
Project SEARCH is a job training program that matches Brevard Public School seniors (or recent graduates) with IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans) with jobs at Holmes Regional or Cape Canaveral Hospital.
“What did we say?” You may not take exams, but you will have performance reviews after 90 days,” retorts Lynda Schuchert, a SEARCH instructor.
“They talk to you, talk to your boss about how you’re doing. If you’re doing well, you might get a raise.
Each class experiences a rotation of three to four roles selected to match skills and interests to jobs. They also receive professional coaches who guide them, not just to completion, but to full employment – at Health First, or at a restaurant, store or elsewhere in the area.
“Are we stricter on attendance than high school?” asks Mitchell Brown, Placement Supervisor.
Of course, the band agrees. “Be on time,” one says. “So you can get paid,” says another. “No, so you’re not getting fired,” said a third.
“When I was a nurse runner, I received compliments from nurses and patients,” says Victoria Bolanos – a big difference between the hospital and the classroom.
“At Health First, it’s all about customer service,” says Schuchert — and that’s not easy to fake in school.
‘Ready to work’
The goal of Project SEARCH is gainful employment that leads to independence in life.
“It’s been so exciting to see the growth,” says Terry Matson, resource teacher for Brevard Public Schools Transition Services.
“It’s almost like until they have that experience, you can’t see their full potential. At school, it’s all about academics, curriculum – for many of them, this is their weakest area. But given the opportunity they are given here, they will rise to the occasion.
The school system makes other vocational technical education opportunities available to its students, including those with a diagnosed disability. But Matson says the goal then is exposure — “the job isn’t the outcome there.”
“For some companies, as soon as you say we want to bring in…students with disabilities, as soon as you say ‘disabilities’, a picture of what that is comes up,” says Matson.
“These Project SEARCH students walk out with their ID badges, their scrubs on —.”
“They’re integrated,” says Tara Shea, one of the professional coaches.
“I was so ready to work,” says Antwan Dobbs, a graduate of Palm Bay High School and Project SEARCH, who is now a housekeeper at Holmes Regional — a nurse that managers on multiple floors know by name.
“People love me here and I love what I do. I love cleaning – Project SEARCH got me this job.
A track record of success
“How many take the bus to come here?” Matson asks the class.
Victoria explains that, while her mother drops her off at work, she takes three different buses home – “a three and a half hour and nine minute walk”.
“I only tried to take the bus once, and I didn’t really succeed,” says Matson.
The SEARCH project can be a valuable internship for students, but to demonstrate its long-term value, each class must be reliable and capable – and be a credit to the one that follows.
“It’s a really good program to help you prepare for future employment,” says Michelle, a nurse-runner on 6A. “The job coaches are very nice and happy to teach you everything they know about how to prepare for a job. Like, the first time I came here, I was a bit lazy. But now I like to keep a tight schedule.
Since February 2022:
■ 224 students have successfully completed Project SEARCH internships at Health First’s two participating hospitals since 2007.
■ 87 of these interns secured full-time or part-time employment with Health First.
■ 91 interns were hired elsewhere in the community.
To apply or for more information on Project SEARCH, visit HF.org/ProjectSEARCH.