Tupelo High School’s first eight Project SEARCH students graduated from the program during a ceremony on Friday morning.
Project SEARCH is a nationwide transition-to-work program for special education students. The project launched in Tupelo in August 2019 as a partnership between Tupelo High School, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and North Mississippi Medical Center.
Students were in the middle of their third and final internship rotation at NMMC when schools were closed and the in-person portion of their program was cut short due to COVID-19.
Project SEARCH instructor Susan Dudley said that learning continued with online classes three times a week to work on email skills, resumes and creating a list of references.
Shaniya Cook, who interned in the NMMC laundry services department and Child Care Center, said she was excited to graduate. Cook loves working with people and is looking forward to applying for a job at the hospital.
Shaniya’s grandmother, Emma Cook, said she’s proud of her granddaughter and how far she has come.
“Without these ladies helping her, it would have been impossible for us to really help her out,” Emma Cook said. “We have been blessed, and she got some good instructors and I appreciate them.”
Aly Kate Braddock, who interned in the Child Care Center and Longtown Outpatient Rehabilitation Center, said she learned a lot from her internships and was “very happy” to graduate from the program.
“It’s just been a blessing in her life and ours, because it’s given her skills that she’ll need for the rest of her life,” Braddock’s mother, Heather Peeples, said. “It’s been such a great experience.”
In addition to their Project SEARCH graduation certificate, students received a commemorative T-shirt, lanyard and school work/supplies that they hadn’t been able to pick up from the classroom.
The Project SEARCH team will continue to work on employment plans with the graduates to help them find and apply for jobs.
Gloria Jarrell, sign language interpreter for Project SEARCH students, has worked with many of the graduates for years and said the program has been “life-changing for these kids.”
“The hospital opened their doors to these kids and gave them opportunities that I don’t know they would have had otherwise,” Jarrell said.
She’s thankful to the hospital, high school and every individual involved for making Project SEARCH a reality in Tupelo, and is happy with the first year’s results.
“If we touched one kid, if we changed the life of one kid, it’s a success,” Jarrell said.