DETROIT — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan held a banquet on Monday, August 30 at 5:00 p.m. to welcome 12 Detroit Public School students into a one year internship for a high school transition program entitled Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is a transition program which provides training and education to students with disabilities onsite at a prominent community business. Blue Cross Blue Shield is the first employer in Wayne County to participate.
The goal of Project SEARCH, which began in Cincinnati, Ohio, is to enable young adults with disabilities to gain and maintain employment through training and career exploration.
The banquet was held at the Blue Cross Blue Shield tower in Detroit. Welcoming the students were David Pankotai, executive director of ConsumerLink Network, Gary Harvey, vice president of Systems Development at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Greg Ulferts, Director of Business Leadership Network of Michigan, and Steve Hill, District Manager of Michigan Rehabilitation Services at Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, all of whom are members of the Wayne County Project SEARCH executive committee.
“We are excited to help these students understand what a working environment is, help them understand their potential and this is helping us as an organization to see the potential in these students,” said Harvey. “It really helps us as Blue Cross Blue Shield to see how people with special needs can contribute.”
For a complete school year, the students will report to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in Detroit daily, rather than attend classes at a regular school. They will receive typical classroom instruction at the facility, as well as instruction in employment and daily living skills before reporting to one of 15 intern sites in the BCBS building for an 11 week rotation to perform workplace duties. They will have one teacher, one para-professional and two skill trainers to manage the classroom and work area. They are scheduled to work in departments such as information technology, clerical and administrative.
“Each student will have the full executive board committee behind them,” said Pankotai. “Each student is going to leave and graduate with a letter of recommendation from everyone on this executive board.”
Implementing the program required locating a district that will commit a teacher to an employment site for a full year. After a district was located, Pankotai presented the Project SEARCH model to a number of employers in the area, and BCBS jumped at the opportunity.
“Of all the employer sites I presented this to, Blue Cross locked in quick,” he said.
“When this first came to our attention, this was something we knew we could and would embrace,” Harvey said. “It wasn’t a ‘Can we do this?, it was a ‘How can we do this’ and ‘Let’s go make this happen.'”
According to Lekisha Franklin-Shorter, Detroit Public Schools Transition Specialist, the students were then chosen through an assessment by the teachers, and the teachers referred the students who were a good match for this program. The students then took a vocational assessment and interview, to determine which intern sites within BCBS they are best suited for.
“Finding a teacher was most difficult,” said Franklin-Shorter. “It takes a different kind of teacher to do this. It has to be a teacher who understands the educational side, and the business side. We were blessed to find Ms. Patton-Dove.”
“This is an exciting place to be,” said Harvey. “This is a great opportunity for Blue Cross, its partners and these students. We look forward to learning from one another.”