Published on August 05, 2019

Project SEARCH Expands to North Mississippi

Project Search students

Eight Tupelo Public School District students will complete an internship this school year through Project SEARCH at NMMC.

TUPELO, Miss.—The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, North Mississippi Medical Center and Tupelo Public School District are partnering to bring Project SEARCH, a national program designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment, to north Mississippi.

Project SEARCH NMMC is offering up to 12 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities from Tupelo Public School District a nine-month internship during their last year of high school eligibility (students are often 21). This unique approach to the critical transition from high school to adult life allows students to rotate through three areas of interest while helping them gain social, communication and life skills.

Project SEARCH is rewarding to students and valuable to their employers. The program has grown from its original site in Cincinnati to more than 200 sites across the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and Australia. Project SEARCH first came to Mississippi in 2015 through a partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi. In 2018, Project SEARCH expanded to central Mississippi through collaboration with Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Rankin County School District and Mississippi Council for Developmental Disabilities.

“Our mission as a state agency is perfectly matched with that of Project SEARCH,” said Chris Howard, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. “Our goal is for these interns to gain full-time employment with benefits after they have completed this program. Our partnership with NMMC and Tupelo Public School District is making this goal possible for these students.”

The internships kicked off with a “Meet and Greet” for organizers, students and parents Aug. 5 at NMMC.

“We are proud of our partnership with the North Mississippi Medical Center,” said Dr. Rob Picou, TPSD superintendent. Project Search is one more example of the One Single Heartbeat, when organizations come together and do whatever is necessary to provide meaningful learning opportunities for students.”

Students provide their own transportation to NMMC—just as they would for a typical job. They receive daily instruction in real-life skills with direct application in the work setting from a special educator provided by the school district. Following classroom instruction at NMMC, each student reports to his or her assigned department for the majority of each day. A job coach from the vocational rehabilitation program with MDRS assists with job-skills training at NMMC.

“This is a win-win-win opportunity,” said Sondra Davis, Chief Human Resources Officer for North Mississippi Health Services, NMMC’s parent organization. “The sponsoring organizations will be offering an amazing opportunity for these students, NMMC will gain some valuable workers, and the students will be granted a head start in a rewarding vocation.”

Typically, about one-third of Project SEARCH students are hired by the host business, with more hired by other local businesses who have seen evidence of the students' job experience and abilities. According to Project SEARCH data, positive employment outcomes run in the neighborhood of 70%. Sometimes interns are employed before the end of the nine-month period, sometimes at the end of the internship, but usually within three to six months after the completion of the program.


Deborah Roberts Pugh, Staff Writer, North Mississippi Medical Center,, (662) 377-3712

Jan Schaefer, Director of Communications, Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services,, (601) 540-4255

Gregg Ellis, Director of Communications, Tupelo Public School District,, (662) 620-6195

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