Project Search: H’burg, Petal, Lamar Co. students gaining employment skills through program at FGH

By HASKEL BURNS,

Three local school districts are in full swing with Project SEARCH, an initiative hosted by Forrest General Hospital that provides a one-year transition program for high school students with developmental disabilities.

Petal School District currently has four students in the program, along with three from the Lamar County School District and three from the Hattiesburg Public School District. The program, which began last month as a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, is designed to provide participants with an opportunity to develop functional skills, enabling them to become a part of the community workforce.

“It’s just a great opportunity for us to live our mission out, where it talks about ‘giving students lifelong learning skills to be productive citizens in an ever-changing global society,’” said Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District. “This is a way to give these students an opportunity to gain meaningful employment after high school, and we’re very proud of these students.”

Under the program, students are bussed every morning from their high school campuses to Forrest General, where they receive hands-on, life skill experience by working with mentors in the hospital setting. Each student will rotate through three areas of the hospital, including Food and Nutrition, Pharmacy and Outpatient Rehabilitation.

“So for example, you have one working with a transporter, learning how to transport patients from one room to the next,” Dillon said. “One’s working in housekeeping; one’s working in the pharmacy doing a job.”

Upon graduation from the program, participants can be well-suited to work in not only healthcare, but at endeavors such as retail, customer service or banking.

“This is a great program that will give students real-world work skills that they can carry into jobs after high school,” said Tess Smith, superintendent of the Lamar County School District.

Heather Howell, a special education teacher in the Petal School District, is serving as instructor for Project SEARCH.

“She’s doing a great job of leading that group over there,” Dillon said. “We’re proud of the partnership we have with Vocational Rehab at Forrest General Hospital to be able to provide this special opportunity for our students.”