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About Project SEARCH | Bergen County, New Jersey
Project SEARCH is a one-year, business-led, unpaid internship program for students with disabilities in their last year of high school that takes place entirely at a host business site. It provides students who want to work a chance to explore careers and develop transferable job skills. The combination of instruction and immersion in the workplace prepares young adults with disabilities to make successful transitions from school to productive adult life.
The Goal: Independent adults working in a competitive environment.
Current Bergen County Project SEARCH host business sites:
- Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack
- Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck
Project SEARCH is a collaborative partnership between business, education, workforce and government agencies, vocational rehabilitation, community rehabilitation providers, long-term support agencies, and families. In Bergen County, Project SEARCH is coordinated by the Bergen County Workforce Development Board. True collaboration among partner agencies is essential. This leads to seamless transition services and sustainability through braided funding streams. True collaboration requires a willingness among partner organizations to share resources and adapt policies and procedures. The following are active partners:
For a brief overview of the Project SEARCH model from Co-founders Erin Riehle and Susie Rutkowski:
For more information, find the appropriate contact below.
- Parents or students seeking additional information should contact their local school district’s District Special Education Director or Child Study Team.
- Businesses interested in becoming a Project SEARCH partner, contact Carol Polack.
General Information Contact:
Carol Polack, Bergen County Project SEARCH Coordinator
Bergen County Workforce Development Board
Phone: (201) 343-8830 x4093
Tara Bohan, Director of Instruction
Bergen County Special Services School District
Phone: (201) 343-6000 x4079
Bergen County Project SEARCH Video Gallery
Basic Eligibility Criteria
- 18-21 years old
- In last year of high school
- All academic requirements for graduation met
- Agree to accept diploma at successful completion of program
- Basic communication skills (verbal or supported by technology)
- Appropriate social, grooming, and hygiene skills
- Able to pass drug screening and background check
- Updated immunizations
- Ability to access and willingness to use independent transportation options
- Have independent living skills and lunch routine
- Meet eligibility requirements for Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS)
- Maintain appropriate behavior in the workplace
- Ability to take direction and change behavior if necessary
- Desire to be competitively employed
- Desire to work in a healthcare setting
Interested candidates must apply to be considered for acceptance into the program. Students are referred by their school district and apply in the spring of the year before entering the program. Space is limited to approximately 8-12 students, per site, each year. The selection is carried out by members of the Project SEARCH Advisory Committee. The application enables the Committee to assess each candidate’s skills, abilities, interests, and background. Selected students will be matched to the most appropriate job site based on interest and skills.
Academic Year Dates & Deadlines
- Applications are accepted throughout the year (closing on April 20, 2019 for 2019-2020 admissions)
- Skills Assessment & Interview Day – April 24, 2019 (to be confirmed)
- Applicant Determination Notifications – week of May 28, 2019
- Incoming Interns and Family Orientation – July 11, 2019
- Travel training – July & August 2019
- Program begins – September 2019
How the Program Works
Through the course of an academic year, Project SEARCH students participate in employment related instruction and rotate through two to three internships that are individually crafted to capitalize on each student’s individual interests, and vocational goals and potential. Each rotation lasts about 10-12 weeks.
Interns work closely with an on-site team, including an instructor, job coach and job developer. The team assists the intern until the task assigned can be performed independently. Agencies are available throughout the program year to provide vocational counseling and guidance. The on-site team, student, family, vocational rehabilitation counselor, and school representatives meet regularly to discuss issues, progress, and career goals.
Graduates are prepared to meet employer expectations and to move into a job development phase. They leave the program with a professional portfolio which includes a resume, solid professional references, recommendations, and real-world work experience.
Job placement is the final goal of the program. Students can accept a job offer at any time during the school year if a match is found (at the host site or elsewhere in the community) and the team is in agreement.
Once successfully employed, graduates receive follow-along services to retain employment.
Project SEARCH has been instrumental in dramatically raising the bar for employment of individuals with disabilities.
According to 2016-17 Project SEARCH national data, these programs have placed 80% of their graduates into employment with 35% of graduates employed by business host site and 65% employed outside host site.
Typical School Day
The Bergen County Project SEARCH Program follows the Bergen County Special Services School District calendar.
The following schedule times are only an example.
- 8 to 9 am: Employability Skills Class
- 9 to 11:30 am: Report to internship, rotating between three a year
- 11:30 am to 12:15: Lunch with coworkers
- 12:15 to 2 pm: Resume internship
- 2 to 3:00 pm: Class debriefing and dismissal
- Provides post-secondary training and internship experience at no cost to students
- Creates opportunities for students to work in organizations and learn employable skills
- Concentrates on developing a student’s strengths
- Works towards independence in areas such as employability, transportation, and daily living skills
- Access to a new, diverse, talent stream with skills that match labor needs
- Interns/ employees with disabilities who serve as role models for patients/customers, families, and associates
- Access to a demographic of the economy with intense buying power: people with disabilities represent one of the fastest growing market segments in the US
- Increased regional and national recognition through marketing of this unique program
- Dramatically improved performance and retention in some typically high-turnover, entry-level positions
- Long-term changes in business culture that have far-reaching positive effects on attitudes about hiring people with disabilities and the range of jobs in which they can be successful
Schools, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Community Service Providers
- Partnership with other agencies that ensures a holistic approach to serving transition-aged youth
- More efficient usage of existing funding streams: sharing human and financial capital improves outcomes and saves time and resources for all partner organizations
- Improved outcomes (career exploration, work experience, and learning of employability skills increases the overall skill level of the students and the likelihood of job success and retention)
- For schools, improved performance with regard to IDEA indicators 1 (Graduation), 2 (Dropout Rates), 5 (Least Restrictive Environment), 8 (Parent Involvement), 13 (Quality IEPs and Transition Goals), and 14 (Post School Outcomes)
Project SEARCH was founded in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Under the leadership of J. Erin Riehle and Susie Rutkowski, Project SEARCH has grown from one original program site at Cincinnati Children’s to nearly 400 programs across 45 states and four countries. Visit the National Project SEARCH website at projectsearch.us.