District to Launch Vermont Project SEARCH

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Thursday October 10, 2013

Vermont Project SEARCH has selected the South Burlington School District and HowardCenter Developmental Services for Chittenden County to launch a project site for the fall of 2014. Project SEARCH is a national program that would replace the existing Bridging Program which the District has hosted for the past three years. The Bridging Program serves students with developmental disabilities from participating districts in Chittenden County and has allowed students to access the community for many transition activities. 

Project SEARCH (PS) has a similar mission, but is more focused and successful in terms of job placement. PS is a high school transition program that is a business-led, one year, school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace. “There is one large business in Chittenden County we are hoping to partner with,” SBSD Director of Education Support Systems Joanne Godek said, “the students could be potentially employed in a rigorous job after 3 different internships. It has been found that the level of student engagement rises up to meet the people around them.”

Godek said the Agency of Education has been planning this since last year. She is hoping to have 8 to12 interns to start and to pool among the districts to reach this number. Up to 8 South Burlington School District students could participate, “but parents and kids have to want to do it and there will be a selection process,” Godek explained.  

The Bridging Program will probably continue, Godek said, but she hopes to have it taken over by another school district, since the first year of planning Project SEARCH will be the most challenging. Godek, in collaboration with the District, will need to hire a Project SEARCH instructor, and a job coach, recruit and select students from Chittenden County, participate in the advisory committee, ensure that PS interns have school liability insurance, and develop marketing materials for the program. The program will be paid for through state and local funding on a tuition basis for participating school districts as is the Bridging program currently. 

According to David Young’s Superintendent Report from the October 2 meeting, the Program has been met with great success. New Hampshire launched the River Valley Project SEARCH site which is in its second year at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. This program included three Vermont students as well as participants from Lincoln Street; a Vermont based specialized service agency. In its first year, the River Valley Project SEARCH site had 100% employment rates for its graduating students from Vermont.  

“By moving to PS, Chittenden County moves to an organized way to develop employment opportunities, in line with the South Burlington School District Ends Policy. Competitive employment for our graduates with developmental disabilities is the most important factor in their success and PS has a proven track record in this area” Young said. 

For more information on this program, go to the National Project SEARCH website at www.projectsearch.us. 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent