A program getting off the ground at Marquette Area Public Schools has the potential of paying many dividends.
The program is Project SEARCH, which focuses on providing special needs students with employability skills that will help them secure gainful employment after high school.
Research has shown that only about 40 percent of special needs students are employed two years following graduation, which compares to 60 percent of high school students without disabilities.
Special education teacher Amanda Erspamer-Berry learned about Project SEARCH when MAPS decided to put together a program to help more special needs students find and retain employment.
Founded in Cincinnati, the program places special needs students in a series of unpaid internships throughout the school year. The students are under the tutelage of a mentor and a job coach and are taught the employability skills they need to be self-sufficient after graduating from high school.
About 30 people gathered Tuesday evening - including special education teachers and support personnel, local business owners and other interested parties - to learn more about the program.
Having local business owners involved is the key to the program, seeing that they will be the ones providing internships to special needs high school students.
The benefits of running a successful program include the obvious one of helping those who need a little assistance to secure long-lasting employment, which helps them lead a more independent and meaningful lives.
The businesses that are involved in providing internships also benefit, not only from having an extra worker on board during the internship but potentially finding a qualified, permanent employee.
The school district, its special education staff and the community also benefit by being part of a program that assists those in need to be an active, contributing member of society.
We encourage any area businesses interested in getting involved to contact the MAPS special education office at 225-4319.