Job coach Kelly Pattison answers questions about this transition program for final year high school students at Community Hospital North
Tell me about Project SEARCH North.
Project SEARCH has been at Community Hospital North since fall of 2011. It is a school to work transition program for individuals with disabilities. Project SEARCH North is a collaboration between Community Health Network, Easterseals Crossroads, MSD Lawrence Township, Vocational Rehabilitation, and the IU Institute on Disability & Community. There are Project SEARCH sites around the world, and Community North is one of the biggest programs in terms of class size and number of students hired by the host site (19 former students currently work at North).
Who attends Project SEARCH North – where are the students from, what are their hopes, etc.
We recruit students from Lawrence North and Lawrence Central High Schools who are 18-21 years old. Project SEARCH is considered their final year of high school, but instead of going to the high school buildings, they come to the hospital each day for class and on the job training. Sometimes we accept students from other school districts or who are older than 21.
What makes Project SEARCH North different than a typical final year for most high school students?
Students with disabilities can attend high school until they “age out” at 22 years old. Our students often complete four (or more) years in the high school, go through graduation ceremonies with their classmates, and then come to Project SEARCH. They are still enrolled in school and instructed by a licensed teacher. Since they were able to “graduate,” they really feel like this experience is comparable to a post-secondary educational experience. Students receive an updated IEP, and our teacher focuses on work related goals, which can help them in their careers going forward.
What is a typical day like at the beginning of the year, toward the middle, at the end?
Project SEARCH takes place from August to May. In August, the job coaches and teacher assess the students’ interests and abilities to determine their first internship rotation. Each intern has three unpaid job rotations during the year. Once students are assigned to their first jobs, the job coaches train them until they are independent enough to work without direct support. Each rotation lasts about 10 school weeks. Students are eligible for hire at any time throughout the year, but it is also not guaranteed within the hospital. Midway through the school year, the students host an open house for their families, coworkers, and interested parties to come learn more about the program. They present posters and get experience public speaking. At the end of the year, the students have a Project SEARCH graduation ceremony.
What do you teach during the classroom part of Project SEARCH North? What about the rotations?
Students are in class for about an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. During class, our teacher follows the Project SEARCH curriculum. Topics include workplace behavior, healthy living, money skills, independent living, and much more. Students work on soft skills, including how to engage in a workplace conversation, as well as how to present oneself in an interview. Students are paired with local business people in an email mentor program. They practice typing in a professional manner as well as how to network with new people. This year, a student is very interested in gardening, so our teacher helped the whole class learn how to repot seedlings into pots.
How do you hope and encourage the students to become friends and bond? What other outside the classroom things do you do each year? Why is it important to have these group type activities?
Our students and their families often express an interest in making more friends and having a more fulfilling social life. During class, the students are encouraged to work with each other on projects. We role-play workplace interactions and promote open and honest conversations each day. The Project SEARCH staff have tried to facilitate opportunities outside the classroom for interns to have social time. Our teacher hosted the entire class and their families at her house for a bonfire earlier this fall. The students planned the menu and brought appetizers and desserts from home. Some of them brought games to play. They cooked s’mores, played a game, and read jokes to each other from a student’s joke book. It is also nice for the families to connect because they can plan weekend activities a little easier than we can.
We also take a couple field trips using IndyGo. We take the class to Community East to visit their students. We go to job fairs. In the spring, we go downtown for Indy Free Tree Day. Students who do not need a tree are able to offer them to their hospital coworkers, which also creates a unique social moment. As a part of the Health curriculum, our class participates in a couple 5K walks throughout the year. This year, we have done the Heart Walk with Community Health Network’s team.
What are some things your interns say at the beginning of the year? What about the end of the year?
Many of the interns are unsure about what kind of job they would like to have. By the end of the year, they tend to know what type of job they want and what businesses would be a good fit for them. They are all usually more outspoken and confident by the end of the year. A lot of students say they miss high school a little, but they like working better.
What are some comments from you current interns about the program?
Shantel – At first I didn’t think I would like my job in Behavioral Health, but now I really like it.
John – P.S. is fun and you get to know a lot more people. It helps you find jobs that you might like.
Ronald – I’ve learned a lot. It’s important to follow the rules at work.
Isaiah – P.S. is a prime opportunity to move past any pain you felt in school.
What would your interns say to future interns?
Shantel – It’s a good program. I would suggest coming to see if you like it. They help you find jobs.
John – Have fun. Don’t be nervous. Always have confidence.
Ronald – Work hard. Be self-motivated. Don’t be too giggly, but be friendly.
Laura – Make new friends and be nice to each other. On the first day, you might be nervous because you’re meeting new people, but you get used to it.
What is the best part of the program?
I think the best part of the program is changing people’s perceptions about what young adults with disabilities are capable of. It’s not just a program that “gives them something nice to do.” It is real life job experience that can launch a very productive career. There are many students who cannot vocalize their strengths to potential employers, but all of my students can show them their strengths. The hospital coworkers in each department do a great job of teaching as many useful skills as possible during their assignment.
Why do you think it is successful and unique?
The program challenges people’s assumptions about employment opportunities for people with disabilities. It can be difficult to hold back assumptions about what each student can do, but until the students have tried a new task, I really cannot know if they are able to do it or not. We have to assume ability. We have to ask employees in the hospital to assume ability.
What do you love most about your job?
I love working with all of our students’ families. It is interesting to hear how far the students have come. A lot of their parents are surprised by how much they are able to do here at the hospital and very grateful that we are here to help them. The students are all so different, but many have faced similar challenges growing up. I like seeing their growth and increased confidence each year. It is also really nice that we stay in touch with past students and families.
I love when they get job offers! Often, HR will call me first and then the student and I call back together. Watching a reaction is so rewarding, and he/she is always so excited to tell their classmates and parents.
Visit Project SEARCH North and learn more!
An Open House is scheduled for Thursday, December 12, from 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at Community Hospital North (7250 Clearvista Drive, Indianapolis. The Open House takes place in the Multi-Service Room in the 7250 Building, 3rd Floor. Contact us for more information.