Project SEARCH puts students on path to employment

Nikki DeWitte is a Wando student working in the housekeeping department at embassy Suites through the Project SEARCH program

Charleston County School District (CCSD) proudly boasts a program that provides career readiness skills for children with exceptional needs. Project SEARCH, which was implemented last year in partnership with AccessAbility, Embassy Suites Hotel, Vocational Rehabilitation, and SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, is a program to prepare students for meaningful employment in the modern workforce. Interns started this August.

The Project SEARCH Transition-to-Work Program is a unique, business-led, one-year employment preparation program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. The program culminates in individualized job development.

This year, students from Burke, School of the Arts, Wando and West Ashley High School are enrolled in the program which is held on-site at Embassy Suites. Grant and district money fund the program which was the result of high-level collaboration coordinated by Mary Stahl, Special Education Coordinator for the Department of Exceptional Children.

Paula Carr, the Project SEARCH instructor for CCSD explained that the students are immersed in the job environment fairly quickly. Like any employee, upon arrival, they sign in and report to their department manager. The students are spread out into various roles from house-keeping to maintenance to food and beverage. About mid-morning the students report to class where she instructs them on job safety, self-advocacy, communications skills and more.

Brandon Babcock is a West Ashley High School student enrolled in the Project SEARCH intern program

“I work with the students to polish the skills they’ll need to utilize on the job,” said Carr. The students enjoy lunch in the breakroom with the other employees and then report back to their department. At the end of the day, another instructional period is held to allow for a question and answer period and an opportunity for their accomplishments to be recognized. “We talk about what they’ve mastered and what areas they need help in,” said Carr. “We also brainstorm on how we can help each other.”

Cameron Poplin is a senior at Wando. He enrolled in the program because he was drawn to the hands-on experience it offered. “I enjoy it because we work on something different every day,” said Poplin. “We fix lights, valves, clean AC units, and change batteries in room locks.” Poplin is optimistic this training will lead to future employment in the industry. The chance of obtaining gainful employment is the main goal of the program, Carr explained. “Ideally the students would be placed in full-time employment here at Embassy Suites, however, the skills they’re learning are certainly transferrable.” Not only does the Project SEARCH internship help these students, but the employees of Embassy Suites have embraced the idea of inclusion and embraced these students.

Kobe Oree, a Wando senior enjoys working in the program. “My favorite part is washing windows,” said Oree. “I hope this will help me get a full-time job when I am an adult so that I can be independent.” John Bloomingburg works in what is considered public areas of the hotel, such as the lobby. He vacuums and washes windows. “What I like most about the job is meeting new people, and working with a lot of great people,” said Bloomingburg. Stahl hopes leaders at Embassy Suites gain an appreciation for the possibilities they can offer students. “They’re now seen as members of the team at the hotel and that’s thanks to the employees taking the time to teach them quality skills and giving them the room to execute those skills,” said Stahl.”


John Bloomingburg has already secured a job thanks to the training he is receiving with this internship

“Each month I send out a newsletter to the staff featuring an ‘Intern of the Month’ and the employees in their departments brag on the student. The employees here are some of their biggest cheerleaders.” The parents of these students are appreciative of the program. “The parents knew their child was exiting high school and were not sure what the next step was,” said Carr. “Project SEARCH will allow the students to transition into the real world.”

More importantly, the interns are very happy with the program. “At the end of the program they’ve gained the confidence needed to do the work independently,” said Carr. “The point is to help them reach developmental milestones. They understand that they’re making a difference, and just like everyone else in this world, they want to do something that has purpose.”

For more information, contact the Office of Strategy and Communications at (843) 937-6303.


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