Project SEARCH Helps Prepare Special Education Students for Employment

     Published on 5/27/15   Tagged under:    District News   

The Syracuse City School District is proud to partner with Upstate Medical University for the seventh year of Project SEARCH, a program designed with the ultimate goal of readiness for community employment for students with a wide range of disabilities. Project SEARCH is an international program model, started by Erin Riehle and Susie Rutkowski at Cincinatti Children’s Hospital Medical Center. In 1996, Project SEARCH at Upstate Medical University was the first Project SEARCH site in New York State.
Project SEARCH enrolls high school seniors who have committed to make the experience their last year of high school. The students then maintain enrollment in high school but are assigned to report to Upstate, where they spend two hours in academic and daily living skills lessons and four hours participating in a mentored internship. All work is hands-on, and tasks focus on building skills that are transferable to the local job market. This year’s students are currently interning in sterile supply, operating room materials, food service, environmental services, shipping, central distribution and more. Each intern participates in three 10-week internships, resulting in a Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) credential.
In fact, a CDOS credential in New York State requires 216 hours of internship participation. In Project SEARCH, students complete their internship experience with over 500 hours!
Community partners are: Upstate Medical University, Arc of Onondaga, Adult Career and Continuing Education Services – Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR) and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). They have worked together to form a cooperative effort that provides braided funding for a smooth transition to adult services. Since the program’s ultimate goal is employment within the community, close relationships are also maintained with local employers.
A final notable aspect of the program: all students are trained over the summer to learn how to take public transportation. These students have generally been provided with door-to-door or curb-to-curb transportation by the school district, so this training not only opens up a huge window of independence for students; it also serves as a cost saving measure for the district. Many students have discovered that the world opens up to them upon learning to independently take public transportation, with the ability to attend courses or social events in areas they otherwise would not have been able to visit.
The Project SEARCH program includes students from all high schools in the Syracuse City School District. At least 70 percent of last year’s students have already gained community employment, and the first student of the 2014-2015 school year has already been hired, continuing the program’s record of success.