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Project SEARCH Sends Next Class into Workplace

IPS Supt. Dr. Aleesia Johnson (far left) poses with district students completing the Project SEARCH program. Ann Meuleman, (far left) is the IPS Project Search instructor.

The lives of five Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) students have been changed for the better, thanks to a program designed to prepare them for the job market.

The students’ hard work was celebrated May 17 at Community Hospital East with a ceremony celebrating the completion of Project SEARCH for 2022–23. The initiative is a transition program for IPS students, ages 18–21, who have significant disabilities. Students graduate from Project SEARCH with a Certificate of Completion.

“Our goal is to get these individuals ready for the workplace, said Ann Meuleman, IPS Project SEARCH instructor. “They spend time learning how to work in the hospital in a variety of areas, which prepares them to accomplish a great deal as they go through life.”

The initiative is a work-immersion program within Community Hospital East. IPS Project SEARCH began in February 2008 as the first Project SEARCH program in Indiana.

Meuleman said the project has been successful in preparing students, with about 80 percent gaining employment shortly afterwards. For students facing similar obstacles who don’t participate in Project SEARCH, only about 17. 3 percent find jobs.

Keynote speaker Bryan Mills, president and CEO of Community Health Network, applauded the hard work and dedication of the students.

“But remember, this is only the first certificate of completion,” he said. “You have many more coming at you.”

Each student works five days a week for 10 weeks as an unpaid intern in a specified department of the hospital with support personalized to their needs by a teacher and/or employment consultant. Interns work three, 10-week rotations in different hospital departments over the course of one school year.

Interns are taught to ride the IndyGO bus as their means of daily transportation to and from Project SEARCH and future community employment settings. The goal of Project SEARCH is paid employment.

Meuleman, who is her 15th year in the program and 27th with IPS, has witnessed tremendous growth in skills acquisition by the 2023 group.

“It is amazing what they pick up by working in various parts of the hospital,” she said. “By Christmas, their growth is amazing and by May, I am so astounded that I can’t keep from crying. I am just so proud of everyone.”

Meuleman believes the program will continue to evolve and expand on a local and national basis. Project SEARCH began in 2003 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and now has operations in 48 states and five nations across the globe.

“I am very lucky because like all teachers, I’ve been allowed to play a major role in developing the program,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in this, and I believe the program is the reason I am on this Earth. I was created to help these students find a purpose in life.”