Health First’s Vocational Training and Employment Program ‘Project SEARCH’ Making Strides Despite COVID-19

By  //  December 20, 2020

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matches high school students with disabilities to specific jobs with support and training

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged how we live life in a variety of ways – including going to school and participating in school-based activities and programs. (Health First image)

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged how we live life in a variety of ways – including going to school and participating in school-based activities and programs.

But some of those under that umbrella are adapting quite well – and even thriving.

Health First’s Project SEARCH, a vocational training and employment program that’s been a staple in the community for years, is among those that have successfully adapted.

It matches the abilities of high school students with disabilities to specific jobs and then provides support and training needed for both the employee and employer, at no cost.

“It’s hard to walk anywhere in our hospitals and not meet one of our successful students who were able to find employment opportunities at Health First,” said Lynda Schuchert, Instructor with Project SEARCH.

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Even the public pandemic, with its endless concerns and months of uncertainty, hasn’t been much of a problem for Project SEARCH and its student interns.

It’s quite the opposite – students have become great assets in providing quality care for all during COVID-19.

Sure, there were concerns and several discussions regarding how this academic school year would look and whether an online platform would affect student achievement.

Adjusting to COVID-19 took months of preparations and was challenging, but not impossible.

The goal was to shift more towards interns being involved in hospital rotations – four days a week, learning from a variety of hospital mentors, and on Friday, online learning, which focuses on “soft skills.”

These include interview techniques, social interactions, resume building, communication and more.

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“We applied this new model to accommodate and ensure everyone’s safety,” Schuchert said.

“Traditionally, we would spend 90 minutes in our vocational room every day but are not able to due to COVID-19 safety guidelines. Personally, it’s been challenging, but also enjoyable, to test our technology skills, and I’m always in awe of the openness and eagerness for our students to continue learning.”

And the new online learning model helps in more ways than one. It provides freedom and instills growth, knowing that learning is different this year, and so far it’s been a huge success.

“It’s a huge task for them each week to accept the Webex invite, make sure the computer has internet access, set up and check their emails, and interact with our instructors and classmates,” Schuchert said. “Despite the pandemic, we are so proud of them for continuing to learn real-world skills and adjusting from school to adult life.”

To apply or for more information about Project SEARCH, visit HF.org/projectsearch

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