Project SEARCH just graduated another class of interns who are ready to take on the working world.
About 100 guests attended a ceremony May 16 at Oakland Heights Baptist Church in Cartersville to celebrate the accomplishments of the program’s sixth graduating class, made up of eight Bartow County high school students with disabilities.
Project SEARCH, an on-the-job training program for county students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are in their last year of school, works with Cartersville Medical Center to provide students with internships at the hospital that will teach them valuable skills needed to secure employment.
Students are referred to Project SEARCH by teachers, family members and vocational rehabilitation counselors and apply in the spring for a spot in the program the next school year.
A team of partners carries out the selection process, which includes tours, student interviews, hands-on assessments at the host sites and scoring on a rubric.
Once accepted, the interns participate in the program Monday through Friday and split each day between classroom learning and on-the-job training in the following hospital departments: maternity, emergency room, plant operations, food and nutrition services, environmental services, occupational medicine, central sterilization, day surgery, materials management, lab, outpatient treatment and newspapers.
“Each day, the students meet in the Project SEARCH classroom for about two hours,” said instructor Jennifer Hyde, who runs the school-to-work program with skills trainer Amber McCurley. “During that time, they learn life skills, writing resumes, filling out applications, interview skills, driver’s education, etc. After that, the interns go over to their departments in the hospital to work. During the day, Amber and I go around to the different departments to check on the interns and assist if we need to. Interns often use checklist to help complete their tasks.”
The interns rotate through at least three different departments during the year, spending about 10 weeks in each.
Hyde said the Class of 2019 interns “had a great year.”
“Students learned independence, life skills and job skills,” she said. “They all grew and became more independent and responsible.”
The 2018-19 graduates were:
Adairsville High School:
Kelley Baker, 19, who worked in maternity, newspapers, ER, day surgery and lab.
Cass High School:
Haley Chester, 19, who worked in maternity, newspapers and ER.
Cody Hardin, 19, who worked in day surgery, ER and cafeteria.
Jay Neal, 21, who worked in environmental services, ER and central sterile.
River Southgate, 20, who worked in nourishment, cafeteria, plant operations and newspapers.
Ronnie Summerfield, 20, who worked in plant operations, day surgery, ER and cafeteria.
Woodland High School:
Frank Clemmons, 20, who worked in central sterile, plant operations and ER.
Ayla Fain, 19, who worked in maternity, occupational medicine, outpatient treatment, newspapers, central sterile and lab.
During the ceremony, Hyde said most of the guests who are close to an intern have “probably noticed a change in them since they began” the program.
“Most interns come into Project SEARCH quiet, dependent on others and unsure of themselves,” she said. “But that is not how they leave. They have learned to communicate with others, make eye contact and do their jobs. They followed schedules and got to and from work on time and learned what it takes to be a good employee.”
Guest speakers were Cartersville Medical Center CEO Chris Mosley and Josh Turner from the central sterile department.
In his message, Mosley thanked the graduates “for all they have done and how important they are to the hospital,” Hyde said.
“Project SEARCH is part of the CMC family,” she said. “He discussed how he has been able to see the students grow and change throughout the year and how it is a joy to see them and get to know each of them. He also said that the Project SEARCH interns have a positive impact on the employees of the hospital.”
Turner encouraged the interns to go after what they want in life.
“His message was telling each of the graduates that they can do anything they put their minds to,” Hyde said. “One of their biggest strengths is their positive personalities. He told them not to let anyone steal that from them.”
Hyde said Turner was presented an award by Project SEARCH “for going above and beyond for our program.”
“This award could have been given to several people, but Josh stood out to us all,” she said. “He works with our interns each year and is a great role model and advocate for our interns.”
The instructor also announced that six interns already have jobs, “and we are actively pursuing employment for the others”: Summerfield, Adams Bar-B-Q; Baker, Wendy's; Chester, Sweet Shenanigans; Neal, Bartow County Parks and Recreation Department; Clemmons, McDonald's; and Hardin, Dykes Creek Farm Supply.
“I am so proud of all of them and their hard work,” she said.
The ceremony concluded with refreshments for the graduates and guests, which included Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page; Chief Leadership and Learning Officer Dr. Kim Fraker, Chief Academic Officer Dr. David Chiprany and other school officials.
Baker said she didn’t know what her future was going to hold until she was accepted into the school-to-work program.
“Before Project SEARCH, I didn't know what I was going to do next until my science teacher, Mrs. [Kerri] Lawhorn suggested the program,” she said. “I am honestly grateful to have been in this program because when I was in high school, I was so timid and shy.”
But through the program, she said she has “opened up and come out of my shell.”
“I don't think I would be where I am today without Project SEARCH,” she said. “I learned to be more independent, responsible and job skills.”
Baker said her favorite departments to work in at the hospital were day surgery and newspapers because she likes to meet new people, and she enjoyed “delivering newspapers and giving patients their papers.”
She also said she is grateful to her program leaders and fellow interns.
“They have helped me with some things that I was struggling with,” she said. “I would also like to thank all the nice people in the hospital who had us in their departments.”