TUPELO • The second class of special education students participating in Tupelo High School's Project SEARCH graduated from the program on Friday afternoon during a ceremony at Church Street Elementary.

Tupelo Project SEARCH instructor Susan Dudley said the program's second year has been a resounding success — from having all students learn to wear a mask throughout the day to having three students earn their driver's licenses and transport themselves to and from their internships.

"It's amazing to see their growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, and their ability to be responsible and to be where they're supposed to be at what time they're supposed to be there," Dudley said. "And to follow through with the jobs they've been assigned."

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.

During the program, students rotate through three internships in areas of interest at the medical center while gaining social, communication and life skills.

So far, three of Tupelo's Project SEARCH students have landed full-time jobs with the North Mississippi Medical Center — Shaniya Cook and Leah Coleman from the inaugural class of eight students, and Ryan Bullock of the Class of 2021.

Bullock completed a rotation in Biomedical Services at the hospital and was in the middle of his second rotation in Food and Nutrition Services when a full-time position became available there and he was hired.

He works in the dish room where he scrapes, washes and loads dishes, wraps silverware, unloads trucks from the central kitchen and breaks down boxes for recycling.

Dudley said the five other students are actively searching for jobs. One has a promising job prospect and another is working toward a paid internship opportunity.

The 2021 Project SEARCH graduates include:

  • Jacobey Brown
  • Jocelyn Brown
  • Ryan Bullock
  • Destiny Griffin
  • Starnisha Jones
  • Julia Kate Mann

Tupelo's Project SEARCH team is actively recruiting students for next year's cohort, while maintaining the group size of six to eight students.

“The kids are just looking for their place in the world and we’re trying to help them find it," Project SEARCH sign language interpreter Gloria Jarrell said. "And we do have a little fun along the way.”

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