Project SEARCH: A Pathway to Success for Students with Disabilities

By Jenny Cox

The blessing of children brings forth hopes and dreams for adoring parents. Parents are filled with joy as they encourage and support their children to live out their dreams from moments of childhood to monumental accomplishments in adulthood. For students with intellectual and development disabilities and autism, focusing on their unique talents through support in school and opportunities in the workforce enables parents to feel at peace knowing their child has avenues for success in the community. 


Project SEARCH, an international program with over 400 plus sites, provides an avenue of hope through tangibly serving young people such as high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism. Project SEARCH is designed to help youth with disabilities transition from high school to careers in their community. At New Summit School in Jackson, Mississippi, ten students are currently participating in the Project SEARCH program. Three entities make up this partnership. The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services provide resources to help Mississippians with disabilities find new careers. MDRS and New Summit School work with their business partner, Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, to offer non-paid internships to the New Summit School students. 


Pharis Newman, Hospitality and Event Coordinator at New Summit School and mother of a Project SEARCH intern, said, “Project SEARCH has offered Parker the opportunity for her to move forward in her goal in life to become a productive adult contributing to society. She is learning to accept new challenges at work and she is no longer just a student in the classroom. She has learned time management, improved her social skills, and developed newfound talents in the workplace.”


Students who participate in the Project SEARCH program at New Summit School learn and work at the partner site at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center on Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. during the school year. The students have an opportunity for three rotations in various departments, which enables them to learn valuable skills while training under well-qualified professionals in each area. The program consists of three, ten-week unpaid internships in different departments. The departments at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center are: Lymphedema, Sterile Processing, Health Plex, Radiology, Day Care, Housekeeping, Transportation, PT/OT, and Corporate Compliance.  


The interns have job coaches and job skills trainers that monitor their work at least twice a day. A program instructor leads the class that follows the Project SEARCH curriculum. The two job coaches and job skills trainers are Shay Jackson and Stephan Riles and the instructor is Stephanie Cockrill. Together with the skill trainers in each department and Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services counselors, students develop the necessary job skills and interpersonal skills to gain employment.  


For all parents the idea of their children being appreciated for who they are, using their talents to help others, and thriving personally, professionally, and spiritually is a desire for their children. Project SEARCH offers promising opportunities in the workforce for students with disabilities that can now have a wonderful opportunity to use their talents to give back to the community. 


“The mentors are helping Parker’s progress this year in Project SEARCH, beyond her disability to succeed in the workplace. Once her internship is completed, she will possibly gain full-time employment. As a parent of a child with a disability, all we ever want for our children is for them to be able to survive, when we are no longer able to care for them. This opportunity allows that security for our child. I have no doubt that through the experience of Project SEARCH, coupled with Parker’s talents and beautiful gifts that she has to offer, she will be a vital part of society with a purpose in life to inspire others and make a difference in our world,” said Pharis Newman, Hospitality and Event Coordinator at New Summit School and mother of a Project SEARCH intern.