Published on May 20, 2022

Blanchard Graduates from Project SEARCH

Makayla's familyMakayla BlanchardMakayla Blanchard of Tupelo High School recently graduated from Project SEARCH after completing a year-long internship at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.

Representatives from Tupelo Public School District, NMMC and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services gathered for a celebration May 13 in Makayla’s honor. Especially proud were her parents, Makayla’s parents, Michael and Josephine Blanchard; Susan Dudley, THS instructor; Hope Bostick, MDRS job skills trainer; and Cora Polson, NMMC student navigator.

Project SEARCH is a national program designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment. Students rotate through three areas of interest at the hospital while gaining social, communication and life skills.

“I had to learn my way around the hospital to make sure that I know where to go,” Makayla said. During the school year, she spent time in the Food and Nutrition Department, where she served food, cleaned the dining area and washed dishes, among other tasks. In Supply, Processing and Distribution, she cleaned and sanitized medical equipment.

Makayla said her rotation through the Employee Pharmacy was her favorite. There, she priced, stocked and straightened over-the-counter medications and assisted with filing.

During her classroom experience, she learned about jobs, budgeting, banking, driving and using public transportation. “You get to learn about different jobs—what you like and don’t like,” she said.

During the ceremony, David Wilson, president of NMMC-Tupelo and chief operating officer for North Mississippi Health Services, praised the Project SEARCH partnership and congratulated Makayla on her accomplishments.

“I remember a little girl at Lawndale Elementary who always had a sweet smile and a great work ethic,” said Kimberly Britton, TPSD Deputy Superintendent. “Although you will no longer be our student, you will always be a part of the Tupelo Golden Wave.”

Makayla's familyNow that she has graduated, Makayla plans to “spend time with family, go out to eat, go shopping and celebrate.” Her next step is to find a job, though she’s not sure what kind she’s looking for just yet.

Since 2019, Project SEARCH has placed 17 students with disabilities in an internship at NMMC during their last year of high school eligibility (students are often 21). Brandi Nickles, Project SEARCH coordinator for Mississippi, said NMMC is one of 13 sites statewide, with five new sites being added this fall. 

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