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HISD has several programs to help young adults with significant disabilities transition successfully from high school to a productive adult life. In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month , we are featuring three of these programs. This is the second in the series. Read the first in the series, about students at the Houston Food Bank, here.
Eleven interns arrive at their classroom in the administrative offices of the Texas Children’s Health Plan at 8:30 a.m. every morning and spend an hour with their teacher, Lisa Mangum, before fanning out to work in various departments – collating documents, making phone calls, and manning copy machines.
These young adults, ages 18-22, attended HISD high schools before being accepted into a Project SEARCH program that is training them to work in an office environment.
Intern Class of 2017 CEO Gleniesha “Mi’chael’la” speaks for the class when she thanks Project SEARCH and her teachers and mentors in the program. Everyone refers to her as the “CEO of the classroom” because she helps keep the class running smoothly.
“I learn fast, and everyone likes me,” she said. “I enjoy helping people and learning new technology. We are a family, and we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Project SEARCH prepares high school students with varying degrees of intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve gainful employment through a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job-skills training.
Mi’chael’la also thanks her mother for pushing her to be responsible for herself. “I catch the METRO bus, and I get here on time every day, ready to work,” she said.
Class begins with a discussion of current events, which can range from national news to a change in the weather. The students learn how to be responsible interns, as well as how to use Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. As HISD high school students, they have their PowerUp computers with them.
At 9:30 a.m., the students sign out and go to their respective departments on the seven floors occupied by TCHP in the Chase Bank Building. Over the course of their one-year internship, they will have three rotations. Josh and Kieara are working in Quality Outcome and Management, where they time-stamp documents and assemble binders for meetings. Danielle transfers voicemail messages to Excel sheets. “I have fun with my department,” she wrote in a reflective writing assignment. “We play and work together to get things done.”
What started as a solution to hiring problems at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has surpassed expectations and multiplied to over 400 programs around the world. When the opportunity arose to start Project SEARCH in Houston, TCHP approached HISD to express their interest. Together, TCHP and HISD collaborated with other community agencies, including the Texas Workforce Commission, to implement the current program, which is now the largest in Texas. This is the inaugural class, and they are eager to do a good job.
Anibal works in Claims entering information into the system, while Rodolfo researches possible fraud cases in order to prevent losses to the company. Abel is bilingual in English and Spanish and makes calls to remind parents and their children of their appointments at the YMCA’s FIT camp. Ezekiel works in the mailroom and has become an expert at keeping the letter-folding machine and copier working.
These students excel at what Mangum refers to as “complex but repetitive tasks” that most employees find tedious. “After they get used to working with interns, they find out they can’t do without them,” she said.
See this related story on the H.E.A.R.T. program at the Houston Food Bank.