Helping all students get the training they need to thrive in the workplace after high school represents an important goal both for Muscatine Community School District (MCSD) and their many community partners. Recently, they teamed up with UnityPoint Trinity Muscatine (UPTM) to bring Project SEARCH to the community, an internship program that helps students with special needs get additional training that will help in future careers. On Thursday, October 17th, UPTM hosted a flag raising ceremony at their campus to celebrate Project SEARCH’s first class of interns.
According to Rikki Hetzler, Business Liaison, Project SEARCH, “is a transition to work program for students who have met all of the requirements for graduation but need on-the-job training to prepare them for employment.”
Hetzler says that UPTM brought the program to Muscatine to provide a new way to help MCSD students with special needs prepare for competitive jobs. “It was definitely a need identified by MCSD. They have a lot of transitional services, but this is above what they’ve done before.” With help from their sister campus in Bettendorf (which implemented Project SEARCH several years ago), UPTM successfully instituted the program themselves in only about a year, an impressive turnaround time for such a complex undertaking.
Selected interns participate in Project SEARCH for the length of a school year. During this time, they work three ten-week internships in different parts of the hospital to learn about various jobs and develop diverse skills. Before their final internship, interns and their families will meet with program leaders to talk about future employment and possibly work with area businesses to find the interns jobs once they graduate. Each day, all of the interns meet with their instructor, Andy Ward, from 8:00-9:00 am. During this time, they do classroom work related to workplace readiness, such as practicing interview skills. Then, from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm, they work alongside hospital staff in their assigned jobs. At the end of the day, the interns reconvene with Ward to talk about what went well and what they can improve on moving forward.
Ward finds this structure suits students well and sets them up for future success. “Having them participate in internships all day is something they can’t get in the school setting and the immersion hands-on learning will help them in possible positions in the community after they graduate the search program.”