Project SEARCH comes to Alachua County

Alachua County public school students with learning disabilities have a chance to grow in the medical field at UF Health Shands
Alachua County public school students with learning disabilities have a chance to grow in the medical field at UF Health Shands
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 11:47 AM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Helping young people with disabilities gain skills for success and job placement! Started in 1996, “Project SEARCH” is a national initiative that started at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital.

The nine-month internship program is coming to UF Health Shands this August. Ten interns with learning disabilities were selected from Alachua County Public Schools this week. They were selected during a training assessment at Eastside High School on Tuesday. The interns will receive on-the-job skills training, and potentially be offered a job at the hospital next year, in May.

“Project SEARCH really aligned best,” said Colleen Koch, the Dean of the University of Florida’s College of Medicine. “One, it’s an exceptional program, and it really helped us achieve and celebrate that sense of community and belonging. We are so excited about being able to get it, and launch here at the college. "

UF’s College of Medicine’s Senior Project Manager, Liliana Bell said, “Ultimately at the end of the program we want them to achieve competitive employment.”

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The students will receive their acceptance letters soon. Dean Koch also explained that Project SEARCH fits into UF’s commitment to inclusion.

“How do you incorporate neurodiverse individuals or neurodivergent individuals into the workplace? This is real work, a real paycheck, and it’s super rewarding for the students and their families.” Bell added, “Really saying we accept you for exactly who you are. We see your skills and talents.”

Project SEARCH has grown to more than 630 locations, across 48 states, and ten countries. Other Project SEARCH program locations in North Central Florida include Lake City Medical Center and Hilton Ocala.

“People can be very dismissive, or you know or are just not aware,” said Bell. “And having Project SEARCH, the interns in the hospital setting, you know interacting with our employees or staff or patients, it just increases that sense of awareness.”

To be accepted, students need to be 18 to 22 years old, have completed their high school education, and attend an Alachua County Public School. Organizers hope to expand the program in the future. If not hired by the hospital, Dean Koch and Bell said the program will equip the students with the skills for other competitive employment. Those students will also get additional training to be hopefully ready for next year’s Alachua County’s Project SEARCH program.

“We would love to have a greater commitment to the community!” mentioned Dean Koch. “For some of the young adults who have aged out of a traditional Project Search in terms of partnerships with Alachua County Public schools, but those students out there who need job skills, who want to work, they just don’t know where to start and they need help, and so we want to provide that service.”

The program is made possible by the partnerships between Alachua County Public Schools, the Florida Vocational Rehabilitation, the Center for Independent Living, and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. ACPS provides the instructors and students, Florida Vocational provides the funding for the students, and the Center for Independent Living provides the job skill trainers.

Below is the Alachua County Project SEARCH program model. To view a list of frequently asked questions about Project SEARCH, click here. You can also read more about the history of Project SEARCH here. If you have any questions about Alachua County’s Project Search program, contact Laura Schollmeyer-Schwartz, Alachua County Public School ESE Supervisor, at

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