Project SEARCH accepting developmentally disabled students for new program in Guelph

Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH Member Portal

There is a new program in the Guelph area that aims to help people with developmental disabilities prepare for the workforce.

Project SEARCH is a unique school-to-work training program developed by the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Centre in 1996. It gives students hands-on work experience while developing workable skills needed in today’s labour market.

A news release states there are more than 750 Project SEARCH sites around the world, 16 in Canada. Guelph will begin theirs in September 2024.

“The goal for the program is that students, when they graduate, can gain competitive employment,” said Jeff Mawhinney, program coordinator responsible for special education at the Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB). “That means permanent employment, not seasonal, paying at least minimum wage or higher, and (provide) at least 16 hours a week.”

The program is a collaboration with WCDSB, the University of Guelph, Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB), and the March of Dimes Canada.

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“We know that our joint commitment to the program will support young people with developmental disabilities find meaningful, paid employment upon completion of the skills training and internships provided during the 2024-25 school year,” said UGDSB Superintendent of Education Peggy Blair in a statement.

Students who are in their final year of high school can apply for the program. Each year, the program will take 10 students who will be working at the U of G in various departments. There is also a classroom set up at the university where the students will attend during the school year.

“(Students) start their day in the classroom, they go to their internship, then come back to the classroom to reflect on the learning that they’ve done,” Mawhinney said. “While in the classroom, they are learning skills like team building, workplace safety, technology, self-advocacy, financial literacy, all the things that are needed to be successful in the workplace.”

Mawhinney said there will also be supports in place for these students once they graduate and go out in to the workforce.

“The students are connected with a community employment agency, or support agency like the March of Dimes,” he said. “They get to know them in for the full year in the last year of school, and they follow them after they graduate to ensure that they are getting opportunities for employment.”

Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital was part of the Project SEARCH program in Halton Region in 2019. Mawhinney said he visited the hospital and other Project SEARCH sites where students were able to be productive and earn a living.

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“They were sterilizing medical equipment, or preparing the cart for surgeries, in charge of incoming and outgoing mail, things that are very essential to the hospital and that our students are capable of doing well.”

There will be an information night taking place Tues. Feb. 6 at the University of Guelph’s University Centre, Room UC 422 starting at 6:30 p.m. Anyone planning to attend must first go here to register.


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