St. Lucie Public Schools (SLPS) need look no further. District officials found what they were looking for in Project SEARCH – a supportive and collaborative community-based program providing students with disabilities real world work experiences in high-turnover, entry-level positions with an end goal of securing employment after a year-long internship.
SLPS Director of Exceptional Student Education and Student Services Bill Tomlinson explained that his team was overjoyed to learn the Developmental Disabilities Council of Florida accepted SLPS’s application to cover start-up fees and licensing for the Program. “Through an agreement with Martin Medical Center and Tradition Medical Center, our District is replicating the highly successful Project Search model launched at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.”
Tomlinson attributes Lesa Kitzmiller, a program specialist for the District, as the backbone for getting the initiative started. “Project SEARCH is a one-year high school transition program for our students with disabilities who are 18 – 21,” said Kitzmiller. “Interested students submit an application, interview with a panel of representatives from all collaborating agencies (SLPS, Martin Health System, and agencies who support two full-time job coaches for students: employU and Department of Vocational Rehabilitation), and commit to total immersion in the business. Feedback on job performance is on-going from job coaches and a full-time instructor,” she said.
Project Search began almost 20 years ago in Cincinnati and has since grown to international levels. Florida boasts over 20 Project Search units and encourages expansion. Eighty percent of student participants obtain gainful employment after completing the program according to Tomlinson who also stated, “Our goal is to continue to expand the opportunities of students as they reach the ages of 18 to 21. We’ll kick this year off on August 6 at full capacity with 12 students.”
August 7, 2018, is slated for Orientation as well as the dissemination of each students’ official scrubs and name badge. Program participants will begin their day at Keiser University’s Tradition campus in the morning for training, discussion, and direction. Next, students will move to their rotation on site at the hospital. Each student will experience three rotations during the year based upon self-selected interests. The day will wrap up as it started – with a return visit to Keiser University and a debrief of the day to discuss and problem solve.