Program SEARCH helps special needs students gain valuable hands-on work experience

Program SEARCH helps special needs students gain valuable hands-on work experience

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Aiea Elementary School, a group of special needs students are receiving hands-on job training through a program called Project SEARCH.

“We have a lot of jobs here on campus. In order for them to learn those career and life skills, we wanted to put them to work,” vice principal Rosa Ashley said.

Program participants are just out of high school and have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

At Aiea, they clean the cafeteria and learn other custodial duties. They also read to kids in the classroom and help in the school library.

“They help us increase our skills, teach us new skills, and help us communicate with others well, and prepare for our future,” participant Justice Routen said.

Project SEARCH is run by the Department of Education, which supplies the instructors. The program partners with businesses and other entities that provide training sites so students learn in a work setting.

“It actually builds their self-esteem. It causes them to work on those soft skills that they need to work on to be successful in society,” instructor Lorraine Cruz said.

There are six students in this year’s session.

“First you gotta do the small things and work your way up,” participant Skylar Capps said.

In January the group will continue the program at Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center.

“What we tried to do here was replicate the same thing -- environmental service, food nutrition and central supply,” Cruz said.

This is Aiea Elementary’s first year providing a training venue.

“At Aiea Elementary School our vision is ‘Where Dreams Begin,’ and so our staff has really embraced the interns,” Ashley said.

Project SEARCH started in Hawaii four years ago. More than half of the 27 students who’ve gone through it have landed jobs.

The goal is to establish the program in every school district statewide.

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