One Year inside a Project Search Class

What I learned about myself, after a year of Project Search

Project Search is a national organization that enables young adults to spend one year in a school-to-work program embedded inside an existing company. The program focuses on those with disabilities and barriers to employment.

There are several Project Search locations throughout the country. However, this Project Search was sponsored by the generous efforts of Bonnie Gillman and located at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). The members of this project’s executive board were all familiar with the success our Technology in the Workplace workshops have had helping young adults transition to the workplace, so they asked me to be a small supplement to their overall program.

It was my job, for an hour each week, to teach ten young adults how to use their iPads and other technology to not only improve their current job functionality, but to improve their ability to work and live independently.  The Project Search class graduated last week and I‘m certain they learned many life-long lessons this past year. I’m also certain I took several life-long lessons from them as well.

Here’s what I learned…

I was reminded that different learning styles aren’t “bad” they’re just different.

As an instructor dealing with various destinations on the autism spectrum at the same time, you constantly have to adapt your teaching and your communication methods. I found myself presenting information in two or three different ways almost simultaneously at times. All students learn differently, yet they often can’t articulate how they learn best. It’s our job to unlock that mystery.

I was reminded just how powerful having a job is.

Statistics from the 2008 recession bear this out. When folks are unemployed they experience a significant increase in stress levels and increased feelings of isolation and depression. We see these feelings in large numbers for those with barriers to employment. Further, when a person is without employment, they also lose the ability to receive the sense of self-accomplishment that comes from pride in one’s work.

Normally I’m merely training students on the skills they need to successfully TRANSITION into a job, college, or even living on their own, and then I send them on their way into the world. This experience was different. I got to witness the actual confidence-boosting process that these young folks gained by coming to work every day and having a purpose. The results were nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I’m not as kind as I think I am.

This wasn’t much of a revelation. Quite frankly, several of the students in the CHOC class were some of the kindest individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Several of these young adults constantly exude happiness and joy on a daily basis.

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Teaching effective email management is sooooo important.

I have been teaching transition and tech classes for several school districts in beautiful Southern California for almost a decade now. Thousands of students have passed through my tutelage on how to use technology to improve their transition to work or to live independently. One of the main building blocks of our curriculum is how to effectively use email.

For young adults raised on instant messages and direct communication platforms like Facebook or Twitter, email seems antiquated. It’s my job to impart to them how important email is once you enter the working world. Because of its ubiquitous nature, email is always one of the first subjects I cover.

One of the hospital’s department wanted to hire, on a full-time basis, one of the interns for a full-time position. However, that student’s poor email habits were holding him back from full-time employment. Once this issue was corrected, the student was offered a position on the hospital’s staff. Watching this transpire cemented in both the students’ minds and mine the true importance of effective email use.

It really does take a village

Because I was only with the students a short amount of time each week, it really was the numerous: job coaches, teachers, Executive Board members, the Project Search curriculum, and the CHOC staff that supervised and encouraged them day after day that had the biggest impact. However, I was around them enough to notice the change that a year of employment made in their lives.

Low self-esteem was replaced with pride in their work and in themselves. Confidence replaced shyness. Those that were disruptive and interrupting became attentive and passionate about learning and working. They became responsible, goal-setting adults.

Their growth was inspirational to watch and humbling to be a part of. I thank them all for a great year.