WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — A graduation ceremony is an event to be celebrated especially for students in the Project SEARCH program as they enter the workforce.

Project SEARCH is a collaboration between state and local agencies in Virginia as well as local public school systems that help students with disabilities to gather experiences needed to find jobs after graduating high school. Students complete their school year learning life skills during internships and for students in the Frederick County and Winchester City Public School systems, they completed their internships at Winchester Medical Center.

Joey Dunlap is a Skills Trainer at Project SEARCH who explained traditional schooling methods, like completing work in the classroom, do not usually teach skills needed to enter the workforce.

“Our students actually get to come and work in the department and be a regular employee for that department, learning how to do a job or all the different jobs in that department so that when they graduate, we can get them competitive employment out in the community,” Dunlap explained.

Project SEARCH is a year-long school program and during their internship period, students are employed at different departments throughout Winchester Medical Center from working on money management skills in the gift shop to packing isolation kits for patients and delivering medical supplies to physicians and nurses.

Madelyn Walters is a student in the Project SEARCH program who already has a job lined up after graduation. She will be working with Sodexo at Shenandoah University when the campus reopens in August. She said she will miss seeing the staff at Winchester Medical Center everyday and was thankful that they were welcoming to her since the very beginning of the program.

Elijah Stine also completed his internship with the Project SEARCH program and was grateful that such a program exists. He explained that while he was nervous at the beginning of his internship, he became more comfortable with his tasks and the staff. Stine has also secured a job after completing the program and will start his new position at a Kohl’s distribution center at the end of the month.

Over the last four years, Project SEARCH Winchester has maintained an almost 90 percent job placement rate and in the class of 2021, 11 out of the 12 students have already accepted job offers.