A school-to-work transition program that gives high school students with intellectual disabilities competitive employment skills had its first student interns graduate on Wednesday. 

Project SEARCH immerses students into the workplace by giving them opportunities to work in various departments within Parkwood Institute, and allows them to learn functional tasks, team-building, and transferable skills they can take with them in the professional world.

The program is a partnership between St. Joseph’s Health Care London, Thames Valley District School Board, and Hutton House. It uses a combination of classrooms, career exploration, and on-the-job training and support. 

“They’re learning the specific tasks of a job but also the routine of work, working in a team, and what it’s like to have a job,” said Susan Vuylsteke, one of the program’s coordinators. 

Students received training in food and nutrition services, environmental services, facilities management, library services, and ambulatory clinics at Parkwood’s mental health care building. 

In its first year, project SEARCH had seven students take part in three 10-week internships within the school year. CBC London spoke to three of them at their graduation ceremony about what they’ve learned so far and how the program has helped them.

A sense of independence

William Ramos's mom, Jacqueline says the program has given him so much independence and has turned her son into a grown man.
William Ramos’s mom, Jacqueline says the program has given him so much independence and has turned her son into a grown man. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Through his internship, William Ramos, 21, learned he is “an excellent cleaner,” he said. He now sees a future working in the cleaning industry.

“I’ve worked in environmental services and I’ve been cleaning rooms throughout the [Parkwood] hospital and discovered my interest,” he said.

Ramos said Project SEARCH made him realize how smart and intelligent he is and it’s given him confidence that he can excel as a professional. He also learned how to take public transit.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t have learned how to take the bus without Project SEARCH. It was pretty good and it felt pretty easy. I wish I learned how to take it before, but thanks to this project I’ve discovered and been a real expert at it.”

Watching her son graduate was a proud moment for Ramos’s mom, Jacqueline. She said the program’s support has allowed Ramos to become an “independent grown-up man.”

“It’s given me peace of mind because I know that I won’t be here forever to take care of him, so we’re very grateful to all the people who see that potential in our kids,” said Jacqueline.

Hutton House will work with the students over the summer to help them find paid employment, which Ramos said, he’s really looking forward to.

Leadership and everyday skills

Noah Hunter, 20, wants to work in the food industry. He says he's learned skills like staying focused and professionalism in the workplace.
Noah Hunter, 20, wants to work in the food industry. He says he’s learned skills like staying focused and professionalism in the workplace. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Noah Hunter has become quite the chef thanks to his internship experience. He’s learned to cook chicken, make soup, and other dishes. Hunter cooks on a daily basis now, he said.

Hunter’s favourite part of the program was working with supportive teachers and the lifelong friends he’s found in his cohort. 

“It feels great [to graduate]. It was so fun, I’m sad that the program is ending because I will miss everyone,” the 20-year-old said. 

The hands-on training has significantly increased the students’ confidence because they get to work alongside team members while building their resumes, said skills trainer Lori Martinez. 

Stephan Spotton, 18, would like to do factory related work with the leadership and time management skills he's learned.
Stephan Spotton, 18, would like to do factory related work with the leadership and time management skills he’s learned. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

18-year-old Stephan Spotton discovered his interest in team leadership and learned how to improve his time management skills. 

Although he encountered a few learning challenges in the process like reading labels and computer skills, Spotton said he eventually got the hang of it, adding that he plans to do factory-related work.

“For [their] families to see how capable they are and what they can achieve really has a life-changing impact on the interns,” their instructor Tracey Couture added.

Project SEARCH was developed at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996, and has since expanded around the world.

 

link

By admin