The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) joined with partner organizations to celebrate the launch of Project SEARCH, an international, transition-to-work program for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Beginning this September, ten carefully selected TDSB high school students will participate in the program during their final year to gain the marketable skills needed for employment. The Project SEARCH model has been implemented across 600+ sites worldwide and upon completion about 75 percent of students find gainful employment within a year of graduation.
“The TDSB is proud to be a part of the partnership with Project SEARCH, as one of the priorities of our Multi-Year Strategic Plan is to support post-21 transitions for students with special needs. This partnership is an important step forward in providing meaningful Experiential Learning opportunities for students to gain skills that will open doors for future employment,” said Ron Felsen, Centrally Assigned Principal who has coordinated the TDSB’s participation in this partnership.
Students will spend 10 months studying and working in non-clinical roles at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and UHN Toronto Rehab. A typical day begins and ends with classroom instruction, led by TDSB teacher, Lisa Cunha de Freitas, at UHN Toronto Rehab’s Rumsey-Neuro Centre. Topics focus on life skills that will help make students successful in the work place, such as money management and building professional communication skills. Students are supported at their work placements by the teacher and job & skills development trainers from Community Living Toronto. After graduation, Community Living Toronto provides personalized employment support so students secure quality jobs.
Project SEARCH is powered by partnerships. The Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) and United Way Greater Toronto have been instrumental in mobilizing funding and community support, in partnership with the two hospitals, TDSB and Community Living Toronto.
The Project SEARCH program model was introduced to Ontario 18 months ago, as an innovative best practice by the Ontario Disability Employment Network. "After convening champions from private and public sector, and securing the community support funds from United Way of Greater Toronto, we are thrilled at the commitment and partnership that has brought Project SEARCH Toronto to life" said Jeannette Campbell, CEO of ODEN.
United Way Greater Toronto’s Career Navigator program is an important partner for Project SEARCH Toronto. Career Navigator is the signature program of United Way’s 10 years Youth Success Strategy and promotes success for youth facing multiple barriers through interconnected education, training, job placement, soft skills and wrap-around supports.
“Together with Toronto Rehab, Holland Bloorview looks forward to co-hosting the first ever Project SEARCH cohort in Toronto,” said Meenu Sikand, executive lead, equity, diversity and inclusion, Holland Blooview.” Susan Jewell, senior vice president and executive lead, Toronto Rehab, noted, “Participating in Project SEARCH feels like a natural extension for us at Toronto Rehab. We feel privileged to help youth with disabilities develop the skills and confidence they need to compete in today’s job market.”