A new immersive school-to-work program for young adults with disabilities, Project SEARCH, is now available in the Superior School District. While the program itself has existed since 1996, Superior Business Center is the area’s first location to host the internship experience.

Project SEARCH is coordinated by the School District of Superior, hosted at Superior Business Center and supported by the Challenge Center and Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development — Vocational Rehabilitation. Together, the agencies have created a one-year immersion experience that combines classroom instruction, career exploration and hands-on training through worksite rotations.

“Project SEARCH is a very unique opportunity for young adults to really blossom and come into their own and to be as independent, as productive in the community as they possibly can,” said Shawna Anderson, special education transition coordinator. “When the project model is done, and done well, it has an amazing impact.”

Six students ages 18-21 are enrolled in the program — two Superior High School seniors, two who were eligible to graduate last year but have elected to come back and participate in the program, and two young adults who have been out of school a couple years. The two are working at the Challenge Center, but aim to increase their skills so they can become competitively employed in the community.

Students enrolled in the program work in businesses with non-disabled peers and adults during their school day.

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“So it’s taking that step towards becoming an adult and being out of school,”’ Anderson said. “It’s a great bridge between being an adult and being a student.”

The criteria for success in Project SEARCH is if participants are competitively employed making minimum wage or higher and working 16 hours or more per week within 90 days of completion.

“And they have a 75% success rate across the country,” Anderson said.

The district was one of two in the state to receive a grant to launch the program this year, according to Anderson. The district learned about the grant in March, the week everything was shuttered under Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency stay-at-home order. Instead of the traditional eight-month round of in-person meetings and workshops, all the training has been virtual.

“So it’s been a whirlwind in a pandemic via technology,” Anderson said.

The last piece of the puzzle fell into place roughly two weeks ago when Superior Business Center joined the team.

“The host business, Superior Business Center was brave enough, strong enough, had the foresight to join in and become our business partner and host us,” Anderson said.

A number of businesses located at the site have already stepped up to be part of the program, including Environmental Testing, Strength Factory, Sun Spot and food safety trainer Arlene Coco.

“Throughout the year, we’ll be building more sites as we get into more businesses,” Anderson said.

The state grant paid for the license fee, technical support and start-up costs for the school year. Anderson said the district is committed to continuing the program, which can take up to 11 students annually after the grant is gone.

"If you have a young adult in your life with a disability who needs a structured way to really blossom and become the contributing society member that you know they are, this might be the thing for them," Anderson said.

Visit the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development website for more information on Project SEARCH.