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Project SEARCH Helps Students With Disabilities Transition To The Workforce

When you call the School District of Osceola County, you might be greeted by William.

"I love to help people, I love to answer their calls if they need help with anything on the phone," said William.

William met his graduation requirements at Liberty High School, but he opted out of receiving his diploma in May of 2019 so he could participate in a unique program within the school district.

"I accepted Project SEARCH because I wanted to learn skills and what it feels like to be in a job in real life and most importantly how to build up my resume."

The year-long program provides students with disabilities an opportunity to gain experience in a professional setting. At the start of every day, William meets with his teacher, Demetrius, and other Project SEARCH students.

"We have an hour of classroom time, where we go over resume building, skill building, going over what a day of experiences they might have and what they had the day before," said transition teacher Demetrius Leitzsey. "Currently we are working on budgeting so how much money do you need to make per week to afford the bills you want."

The time they spend in the classroom is designed to help students learn the different aspects of independence. Once class is over, William gets settled at the front desk and starts to work. On a typical day, he's answering phone calls, checking in guests, and delivering mail to various departments. All these tasks have helped William improve his communication skills and gain experience for his dream job.

"The job that I really wanted to do is plumbing," said William.

William is based at the school district's host site, but that's not the only place you'll find Project SEARCH students. A few miles down the road, Katelyn and Orlando are participating in their third and final rotations at AdventHealth.

"I’ve been a part of surgical services, sports medicine, and the laboratory," said Katelyn.

Katelyn was matched with these departments because of her interest in nursing and her desire to help others.

"When we go through the interview process, we make sure that they are going to be placed into a site that is something that they want to grow on, said Vivian Dekony, a transition teacher for the school district.

Orlando on the other hand really loves to be in the kitchen.

"I’m thinking of going to a culinary school to learn more skills," said Orlando.

Throughout the year-long program students are paired up with an experienced job coach who guides them in their job search. The goal of Project SEARCH is for all our students to find a job before the end of the school year.

"Project SEARCH is a program that I believe is what really matters for our students," said Vivian. "Our special education community needs to have more resources for them to become independent adults."

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