djr-2020-03-01-news-projectsearch-arp2 (copy)

In this file photo from March 2020, Leah Coleman, a Tupelo special education student, stocks a shelf with SCD leg pumps at the North Mississippi Medical Center as part of the Project SEARCH student internships. On Monday, the Lee County School District approved a partnership with Project SEARCH which will allow high school special education students at Mooreville, Saltillo and Shannon high schools to take part in the job training program.

TUPELO • The Lee County School District Board of Trustees has approved a partnership with Project SEARCH, a nationwide transition-to-work program for special education students.

Project SEARCH launched in Tupelo in August 2019 as a partnership between Tupelo High School, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) and North Mississippi Medical Center.

Through the partnership, participating Lee County students will learn social, communication and life skills during three internships at the medical center.

Lee County's partnership was approved following a presentation by Brandi Nickles, Project SEARCH coordinator for MDRS, and Susan Dudley, Tupelo's Project SEARCH instructor, during Lee County's regular monthly board meeting on Monday. 

Anthony Bryant, Lee County Schools assistant special education director, said the district had been in talks with MDRS about the partnership in 2020, but it was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the partnership now finalized, Lee County's inaugural Project SEARCH class will begin their first internships in fall 2022.

The program is open to students between the age of 18 and 21 with a disability during their final year of high school — typically students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) who are on a nontraditional track and working toward an alternate diploma, according to Bryant.

Project SEARCH offers those students the opportunity to gain firsthand on-the-job experience that can land them a job immediately after completing high school.

Informational meetings for parents will be held soon at each of the district's high schools — Mooreville, Saltillo and Shannon. Teachers will refer students to the program, and assessments will be given to determine which students qualify. Up to 12 students will be selected to participate next fall.

LCSD Superintendent Coke Magee told the board he sees Project SEARCH as a great opportunity for the district's students.

"I think it's better for them to be at the hospital learning job skills than for us to be teaching them job skills in the classroom," Magee said, stressing the importance of hands-on learning.

"This is just another example of an opportunity for our students to learn the skills that they're going to need to become contributors in our community," he added.

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