610-987-2248   |   info@berksiu.org

Project SEARCH

About the Program

Project SEARCH is dedicated to providing education and training through an innovative workforce career development model that benefits the individual, workplace, and community.

The Project SEARCH Program is a unique, business-led, one-year, school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job-skills training through strategically designed internships.

The goal for each student participant is competitive employment. The program provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent living skills to help students with special needs make successful transitions from school to a productive adult life.

The program is currently hosted by Penn State Health St. Joseph where students have access to a number of tasks within the hospital, located at 1036 MacArthur Road, Reading, Pennsylvania, 19605.

Program Overview

Students attend the program for a full school year in the host business. The business provides access to an on-site classroom that can accommodate up to 12 students. The site is staffed by a special education teacher and skills trainers to meet the educational and training needs of the students.

Once the school year begins, the first few weeks of the program are focused on new employee orientation, hands-on skill assessment, and familiarization within the business environment. Students develop a career plan which guides the internship selection process and individualized job search.

Employment Skills Curriculum

Throughout the school year, the students work on employability and functional skills for approximately one hour of their day. Classroom activities are designed about these focus areas: 

  • Team Building
  • Getting Around your Workplace
  • Workplace Safety
  • Technology
  • Social Skills
  • Communication
  • Presentation Skills
  • Interviewing Skills
  • Money Management
  • Health and Wellness
  • Job Search Skills
  • Keeping a Job

Internships/Worksite Rotations

Through a series of three targeted internships, the students acquire competitive, marketable, and transferable skills to enable them to apply for a related position. Students also build communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills, which are important to overall development as young workers. These are unpaid student work experiences. Potential student worksites are identified through a continuous collaborative process involving the teacher, skills trainers, and business liaison.

The internship rotations begin a few weeks after the start of the program. Students are required to interact with their supervisors via telephone and written communications to arrange a job interview to secure each rotation. A department mentor is identified at each site. The mentor interacts with the instructor, skills trainers, and the student as a consistent source of guidance and feedback. Working from a task list, they acquire the core skills necessary to be hired in an entry-level position at the host business site or in the community. Skills trainers and department staff collaborate to provide support for students.

The Project SEARCH staff delivers the training and develops job accommodations and standard work procedures. Once the students master the core skills, additional skills are layered to improve their marketability.

Job Placement And Community Connections

During the last few months of the program, the emphasis is on refining skills, achieving the career goal, and carrying out individualized job placement. The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) counselor becomes an even more important part of the team as the job search process begins. Job development and possible placement occurs based on the student’s experiences, strengths, and skills. Links to appropriate services in the community are critical at this stage, as students prepare to graduate from the program, to ensure a successful transition to possible employment and adult life. Upon satisfactory completion of the program, students will receive a Career Portfolio.

Student Selection

Students are referred to the program through their home school districts and apply in the winter and spring in the year prior to entering the program. A team representative from each of the partners, Berks County Intermediate Unit, host business liaison, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Service Access & Management Inc., and from the community, carry out the selection process, which includes tours, student interviews, hands-on assessments at the host sites and scoring on a rubric related to entrance considerations.

Eligibility Guidelines

Project SEARCH serves students with disabilities. Typically, these are students who have an Individual Education Program (IEP) and are in their last year of high school eligibility. The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve competitive employment.

  • Students must be enrolled in their last year of school (typically between the ages of 18-21).
  • Students must have a desire to work in the community.
  • Students must meet all academic requirements for graduation (with deferred graduation).
  • Students must have basic communication skills.
  • Students must have appropriate social, grooming, and hygiene skills (including independent toileting and feeding skills).
  • Students must be able to pass a drug screening and obtain all background clearances.
  • Students must have up-to-date immunizations.
  • Students must have achieved at least a 2nd-grade math and reading level.
  • Students must interview with the Project SEARCH team to be considered for entry into the program.
  • Student must be eligible for OVR services.

Enrollment Procedure

An intensive application, screening, and interview process has been established by the Project Search Selection Committee. Please contact the Office of Early Childhood & Student Services (ECSS) School Age Special Education (SASE) at 610-987-8513 for additional information.

Program Contact Info

Jessica Head

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