Bayhealth’s Project SEARCH trains special needs students

DOVER — Ten interns are hard at work at Bayhealth preparing for professional careers. An internship may be a run of the mill stepping stone for most high school graduates, but these students have learning disabilities and the internship doubles as a life skills program.

Project SEARCH was founded in 1996 in Ohio and is now in its second year at Bayhealth. The class of 2015 had eight interns while this year’s has grown to 10.

“The first few weeks most of the time is spent in the classroom where we do an orientation where the interns get Bayhealth training, learn about customer service skills and interview skills,” Lisa Enright, head instructor of Project SEARCH and special education-certified teacher said. She is one of four staff members working for the Bayhealth Project SEARCH program.

In the classroom, students have learned hospital policies and almost every one has received CPR training and certification.

Nineteen departments at Bayhealth, including food services, outpatient services and medical records, participate in Project SEARCH. Each intern must choose three departments they are most interested in and interview for a position at each, applying interview skills they’ve learned in a classroom setting. Every intern will work in three different departments throughout the year, spending 10 weeks at each.

But it’s more than just Bayhealth and Project SEARCH that make the program a reality. It requires the cooperation of many organizations including Capital School District, Kent County Community School, the Delaware Department of Labor, Department of Education and the Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, just to name a few.

Before heading to their Bayhealth internship from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the interns have an hour-long classroom lesson focusing on life skills.

“There are a lot of skills you and I take for granted like being able to follow a bus schedule, make appointments, the steps you follow when you get to the doctor’s office, but some people need to be specifically taught these skills,” Ms. Enright said.

Some of the skills can be taught in the classroom or on the job but others take more time or need to be specialized based on the capabilities of each student.

“We have students of all different levels and they each have an iPad from Kent County Community School that they are able to take home and work on a specialized skill set that fits their needs,” Ms. Enright said.

Through class work, homework and on-site job experience, the interns will learn the necessary life skills to attain employment after completing the program to live successful and more independent lives.

“We try to prepare them for a career, not just a job,” Ms. Enright said. “We want them to get into an environment where they can continue to learn and better themselves.”

Near the end of the program, around late March through April, the interns work with a job coach to develop a resume incorporating all the skills they learned during the program and help them search for jobs and prepare for interviews to obtain permanent employment.

Last year, almost every intern obtained a job with 25 hours or more per week within 90 days of graduation, which is the ultimate goal Project SEARCH has for its students.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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