Laurens County School District 55 Stakeholders Support Project SEARCH 

December 12, 2022

What’s the buzz about Project SEARCH? 

It’s a life-changing opportunity for young adults with disabilities that is highly supported by Laurens County School District 55 (LCSD 55) stakeholders. Project SEARCH is a business-led school-to-work transition model with demonstrated success in developing internships for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are in their last year of high school. 

Representatives of LCSD 55, PRISMA-Health Laurens County Hospital, the Laurens County Department of Disabilities and Special Needs Board, and South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation have come together since early December 2021. These stakeholders spent a great deal of time collaborating to bring Project SEARCH to Laurens 55. They attended Greenville’s Project SEARCH Open House and created the LCSD 55 Project SEARCH Steering Committee. 

Implementation of Project SEARCH in LCSD 55 began this academic year. The year-long internship program provides for a total workforce immersion. Students attend a three-week orientation and then spend 36 weeks interning at PRISMA-Health Laurens County Hospital, the host business. There are three 10-week internship rotations within three different departments of the host business. Students dig into the Employability Skills Curriculum for an hour in the morning with Mrs. Lauren Dean, LCSD 55 Project Search Instructor, then spend 4.5 hours at their assigned departments. At the end of the day, students engage in reflection, problem-solving, and evaluation. The goal of the program is for students to obtain competitive employment upon completion of their internship. Hence, Project SEARCH provides customized job-search assistance at the end of the program to match the students with jobs that fit their skills and interests. 

Justin Benfield, Chief Executive Officer of PRISMA-Health Laurens County Hospital, said, “We are extremely honored to partner with Laurens District 55, Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Disability and Special Needs, and Project SEARCH. PRISMA Health’s purpose is to ‘Inspire Health, Serve with Compassion and Be the Difference.’ That purpose is not limited to treating patients. It is also about enhancing community vibrancy, fiscal responsibility, and developing a future workforce to deliver care to our community and doing so with intentionality, diversity, and inclusion. Effective healthcare delivery takes an entire team with multiple roles. Project SEARCH offers these young adults an opportunity to learn valuable work skills in various roles within the healthcare industry. I am very proud of the students and enjoy seeing their passion, engagement, and performance. I look forward to seeing great things from each of them.” 

The Project SEARCH Committee holds monthly meetings throughout Project SEARCH’s implementation. The committee evaluates applications, ratings, references, and eligibility criteria. The committee also assesses the program’s success. The committee determined the program as successful based on each student’s growth. The committee agreed on the program’s implementation for the school year 2023–24. Informational materials will be out 

in January 2023 and a Project SEARCH Parent Information Session will be held in February 2023. Information-sharing with appropriate parents will be embedded in upcoming Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Students will also have an information session. 

The eligibility criteria for interns include students with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), aged between 18-21 years old, eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation and Department of Disabilities, ability to take direction and change behavior, passing on-boarding requirements, desire to work, and student’s family support of their goal to obtain employment. 

Dr. Ameca C. Thomas, Superintendent of Laurens County School District 55, said, “I am very excited that we were able to bring Project Search to our district and community. This is our first year and we are grateful for the real-world opportunities this partnership with PRISMA-Health Laurens County Hospital provides for the students with disabilities in our district. Each day our students have work-based learning opportunities. The goal of this program is for each student to obtain competitive employment. To reach that goal, the program provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent-living skills to help young people with disabilities make successful transitions to productive adult life. The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve employment.” 

Only one Project SEARCH program is allowed for each county. Dr. Thomas is delighted to share that plans are underway for a possible partnership with Laurens County School District 56. The partnership will give LCSD 55 a bigger pool of instructors and skills trainers, while Laurens 56 will have the opportunity to serve its students. 

Dr. Sara-Frances Reid, LCSD 55 Office of Special Education Services (OSES) Director and member of the LCSD Project SEARCH Committee, is thankful for the stakeholders’ involvement. She said, “I cannot say enough positives about Project SEARCH. It is an amazing program for our students and it’s amazing our partnering agencies in Laurens County share the passion to have this great opportunity for adults with disabilities in our community.” 

LCSD 55 serves approximately 816 students with disabilities on IEP each year. The Project SEARCH initiative is just one of the programs the district has implemented to ensure special needs students and families have access to services and work-based learning experiences. LCSD 55 has a variety of transition programs which Mrs. Carolyn Shortt oversees as the LCSD 55 Transition Coordinator. Among those transitions, work-based programs are Raider Joe’s Coffee and Raider Creations Print Lab, on-campus student-run businesses located at Laurens High School.