HONOLULU (KITV4) -- A very special graduation takes place on Friday afternoon for a handful of students in the public school system. They're disabled youth finishing up their internship program.
A Department of Education program takes the learning out of the classroom, and into the real world. It's called Project SEARCH. Lorraine Cruz is one of the two teachers, and tells KITV4 how the program works.
"What Project SEARCH does is, there is a host business - for us it's Kaiser Permanente - and we work alongside their employees training our young interns - they're not called students - to work on transferrable skills, soft skills, and hard skills," Cruz said.
Reggie Dela Cruz is the other teacher, and added, "It does give this population of students a chance to have life after school. With the training they get from their internship, it boost their ability to do tasks in the workforce, develop confidence, develop soft skills, understand how to socialize appropriately."
They are young adults ages 18 to 21 in the DOE, getting a feel for being an actual employee. Cruz lists some of the skills they can develop: "They learn to greet others in the hall. They have to talk to customers that come through the hotline. They do surveys."
Dela Cruz noted, "It changes lives. Out of the 14 students we had graduate over the last couple years, 11 have jobs, go to college, or a combination of both."
This experience makes them more competitive when applying for jobs after they finish high school.
"That's the key, being contributors to society. We've talked to them about being out there, getting a paycheck, knowing what taxes is all about," she said.
Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The program is now in over 300 sites across the US, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia.
Currently Central Oahu is the only district in this state with a Project SEARCH Program. The DOE can't expand without more host companies, and right now, Kaiser Permanente Hawai'i is the only one. Dela Cruz encouraged, "If you're a business owner or part of a company that wants to reach out and learn more, reach us at ProjectSearchHawaii@gmail.com."
Graduation is Friday, May 26 at 1 p.m. at Aiea Elementary.