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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Project Search group

Norman Regional and Moore Public Schools have teamed up for Project Search to give high school seniors with disabilities the opportunity to get on-the-job experience. The inaugural group includes (back row left to right) James Hightower, Evan Todd, Alex Baumeister- Schuerch, Trenton Baber, (front row left to right) Ben Cantu, and Bryson Matula.

NORMAN, OK - Norman Regional Health System (NRHS) is offering students with disabilities a new opportunity this academic year.

NRHS teamed up with Moore Public Schools after becoming a host business liaison for Project SEARCH.

Project SEARCH is a national organization that provides on-the-job experience opportunities for high school seniors who have disabilities. It is a nine-month career development program that provides training through a business-led partnership for 18-to-23-year-olds, with support and resources provided by the Department of Rehabilitation Services; the University of Oklahoma, National Center for Disability Education and Training (NCEDT); a local school; the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) Project SEARCH national office, and a community rehabilitation provider agency.

Norman Public Schools also participates in the program, but was already teamed up with Embassy Suites by Hilton as their host business liaison.

Richie Splitt, president and CEO of NRHS, is the one who pushed for a program like this to be incorporated into Norman Regional.

"Project SEARCH is beneficial for both us and the students. The students have an opportunity to learn through hands-on experience, while we have the opportunity to watch them progress and possibly find a career field they love. I’m excited to be a part of this opportunity," Splitt said.

Six participants were chosen for the program through an application, interview and ratings process. The program is open to men and women, but Norman Regional’s participants are all male this year.

The program is taking place at the Norman Regional HealthPlex, 3300 HealthPlex Parkway, off Interstate 35 and Tecumseh Road in Norman. Each student is treated as an intern in a specific area of the HealthPlex.

The six participants are Alex Baumeister-Schuerch interning in Environmental Services; Trenton Baber interning in Surgery; Ben Cantu interning in Patient Access; James Hightower interning in Food and Nutrition Services; Bryson Matula interning in the Cath Lab, and Evan Todd interning in Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

The six students went through the same processes as NRHS employees do, and have special scrubs and name badges. They will transition into a different area of the HealthPlex every 10 weeks.

Ben Cantu said he wanted to join the program because it’s a good program to get a job through and he likes being able to switch departments and get different types of experiences.

"I hope to work here or in another hospital in the future," Cantu said. "This is helping me because I’m getting more experience talking to people and I love it."

Greg Peck, Human Resources Specialist for NRHS, said the biggest benefit of the program is being able to see the progression of the students and witness first-hand how they would be suitable for positions in the future.

"It gives us an opportunity to excess their skills and for them to adapt to the workplace," Peck said.

MPS Superintendent Dr. Robert Romines said Project SEARCH has been great.

"It’s a great thing for the students and the transitioning piece of it is huge," Romines said. "Although it is at the Norman Regional HealthPlex and not at Norman Regional Moore, I think it’s very appropriate to cross district lines to benefit the students. It’s also been a privilege to work with Richie Splitt who is a Moore graduate."

The Moore district also wanted to thank Norman Public Schools for allowing them to come “into their territory” to be able to learn and be involved in the program.

The program started in August, and Peck said they’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the specific areas within the HealthPlex.

Evan Todd said he was surprised at the amount of positive feedback he’s personally received.

"It feels alright, I was surprised, like they think I’m such an amazing person," Todd said.

"The Cath Lab really likes me. It’s like an internship. It’s good for me and them too," Matula said.

Rachael Laib, special education teacher for MPS, is the on-site instructor, and Erica Nelson serves as the work skill trainer through the Dale Rogers Training Center.

Laib said she isn’t surprised at all by the positive feedback they’ve received.

"Culture changers—that’s what it’s about. Changing the stigma of people with disabilities and showing that they deserve a place in the workplace," she said. "These men are incredible. They work hard, they’re willing and they’re able to do systematic and complex jobs."

"We’re incredibly blessed as a district to have the support of Superintendent Romines and Norman Regional. We were able to do this program because Dr. Romines cares about students and has a big heart for our kids."

Kim Heard, director of special services for Moore schools, said she’s excited to see the end result of the program

"Project SEARCH has been an exciting and life-changing opportunity for the interns to learn valuable job skills to prepare them for permanent employment in our community. Norman Regional Health System, DRS, Dale Rogers Training Center, and the University of Oklahoma are collaborating to ensure this project is successful and that partnership has been a blessing to Moore Public Schools. We look forward to all of the exciting things that await our interns as they complete this program," Heard said.