Starr’s Mill SEARCHed, found new way to help students with disabilities


Submitted by Jenny Bellamy

The participants in this year’s Project SEARCH program all stand with Piedmont CEO Michael Burnett. This years interns learned skills to help them in their future endeavors while also benefiting the hospital by helping with day to day tasks.

Jacob Hunt, News Editor

Starr’s Mill has always provided an education that has allowed each student to be prepared for the next step in life. Now, the school has added another solution to this goal, only this time for students with disabilities. Introducing Project SEARCH.

Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition program for students with disabilities in high schools around the country. Essentially, if a student with special needs would like to enter the workforce right after high school, Project SEARCH allows that student to learn any of the skills required for employment. The program takes place at Piedmont Hospital and adds a fifth year to high school for these students While participants still graduate and receive their diplomas on their normal graduation day, the following year they return to school for the program.

“We are excited to have this group join the Piedmont Fayette team and can’t wait to see how much they learn and grow during their time here,” Piedmont Fayette CEO Michael Burnett said. “It is our hope this experience will benefit them in the workforce now and well into the future.”

A typical day at Project SEARCH is 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Former Starr’s Mill teacher Jenny Bellamy is the student instructor or teacher and Suzanne Hyer is the skills trainer. Both ladies work with the young adults to teach skills they will need to succeed in the workforce.

Teaching soft skills is a critical part of the Project SEARCH program and our students and interns are developing these skills first hand, rather than learning them only in a classroom.

— Jenny Bellamy

The average day at the program contains class work from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The rest of the day the interns do various jobs around Piedmont, including helping in rehab, patient access, the medical or surgical floors, or the dietary and nutrition sections of the facility.

Project SEARCH provides benefits for two groups of people: the participants and Piedmont itself. Participants develop several skills they can use in life. By the end of the course, interns will have learned what companies are looking for in workers today and will have skills in various elements of work including independence and self-esteem. Students also will have a chance for feedback and constructive criticism while participating, without fear of the consequences that could occur from a mistake in the modern workplace. Basically, they are learning everything now, so they can thrive later.

“Time and time again organizations report that their employees lack ‘soft skills’,” Bellamy said. “Teaching soft skills is a critical part of the Project SEARCH program and our students and interns are developing these skills first hand, rather than learning them only in a classroom.”

Interns also have another thing to put on their résumés when applying for jobs after the courses completion and will have connections with vocational and adult programs for when they start the job search.

The participants aren’t the only ones benefiting from Project SEARCH. Piedmont thrives from what these students are doing. Along with having a great feeling that Piedmont is impacting the lives for these young students in the best way, Piedmont also has access to free interns to help with daily jobs around the hospital. The business also is being recognized nationally as Project SEARCH is currently used all over the U.S. in any company that will use it.

“Although we have just begun, we have received so much positive feedback from Piedmont Fayette Hospital employees about how hard our interns are working and how thrilled they are to host this program,” Bellamy said.

Project SEARCH impacts the lives of not just Starr’s Mill graduates, but all of Fayette County as the program is open to students from all five high schools.