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Twelve Syracuse high school students graduate from Upstate’s Project SEARCH program

Sulema Baptiste, a Henninger High School senior with disabilities, enrolled in Upstate Medical University’s Project SEARCH program in September with a dream that seemed unobtainable—entering the workforce. However, less than a year later, Baptiste is among 12 recent graduates of Project SEARCH that prepares high school seniors with disabilities for competitive employment in the job market.

“The transformation we see in our students from the beginning to the end of the program is amazing,” said Christine Gustke, special education teacher for Upstate’s Project SEARCH program.  “Participants learn necessary job skills, such as independence and how to problem solve through hands-on mentorship and training.”

Project SEARCH participants complete 30 weeks of internships in a health care or business setting, where they are immersed in the workplace learning skills, such as filing. Students also learn and practice life skills in the classroom and community settings, including budgeting and how to use public transportation.

Throughout the year, Baptiste learned to become more self sufficient, and explored career opportunities in three separate departments, including Records Storage, where she and classmate Olivia Niyosaba helped save the department nearly $2,000 by efficiently purging  records to maximize space.

“These young professionals of Project SEARCH are eager and ready for work,” said Record Storage Manager Tree Carter. “Our Project SEARCH interns brought positive energy to our environment. We as a department have learned so much about ourselves through working with them. We are proud of the work they have accomplished and their commitment to success.”

According to Baptiste, the experience made her feel ready to seek employment. She enjoyed working with the Record Storage team and Project SEARCH staff.

In addition to Baptiste and Nivosaba, the 2015 Project SEARCH graduates are: Burrelle Capers and Hazaian Kinnison, Corcoran High School; Anna Darcy, Julio Ferrer and Antoine Hodges, Henninger High School; Anthony Harmon and Luciano Plaza, Fowler High School; and Kenroy Thomas, Kyle Laframboise and Hen Ku Qui, Nottingham High School.

Since 2008, when Upstate became a host of Project SEARCH, the program has had excellent results in job placement. In 2014, more than 90 percent of the graduating class found competitive employment. In addition to Records Storage, other campus departments and offices that hosted a Syracuse teen include Morrison; Central Distribution; Sterile Processing; Receiving Department; Mailroom; Upstate Child Care Center; Centro; Community Campus; Nursing, Fifth Floor—Nursing OR and Anesthesia; Operating Room Materials; Environmental Services; and Central Equipment Services.

Project SEARCH is part of an international program with more than  300 sites across the United States and Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia. Upstate is one of only eight institutions hosting Project SEARCH in New York state. Upstate’s Project SEARCH was the first in New York state.

Upstate’s Project SEARCH partnership with the Syracuse City School District is supported by ARC of Onondaga’s Employment Options and CNY Developmental Services Office.

For more information, visit: Project SEARCH.

Caption: Upstate Project SEARCH 2015 graduates proudly display their certificates at a graduation held on campus June 17.

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