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Project SEARCH: Building confidence and independence to prepare students for success

Nov. 13, 2023

brandi pittman and dr. taylor with Project SEARCH student


As a school district, we are dedicated to helping all students reach their full potential by preparing them for productive citizenship. Recently I got a first-hand look at a program that demonstrates our commitment to that ideal. 


Project SEARCH is an international job-training program for high school students with disabilities. The goal of the program is to provide students the skills they need to attain competitive employment after graduation. It currently has 787 sites across 48 states and 10 countries. 


Project SEARCH here in Wake County at the Embassy Suites RTP in Cary in 2019. The program receives support from agencies including Community Partnership, Inc., Alliance Health, and the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services.


During its first few years, more than 40 high school seniors have completed the one-year internship program, with about 75 percent moving on to paid employment.


Interns at Embassy Suites try out various job duties at the hotel. During my visit, I met Trevor working in the laundry, Ben washing dishes, Cheikh prepping vegetables, Molly at the front desk, and Jedi cleaning hotel rooms with the housekeeping crew.


These students were laser-focused on their tasks. They clearly took pride in their work, and they weren’t about to let anything get in their way - including a superintendent trailed by a gaggle of local news media.


I stopped for a moment to talk with the hotel’s executive chef, who said the Project SEARCH interns provided invaluable service to the business. These students are doing necessary and meaningful work - and doing it well. In fact, five interns have been hired by Embassy Suites after graduation, and many others have moved on to work elsewhere, including other hotels, restaurants and grocery stores.


That is a testament to Brandi Pittman, who heads up the program with support from partner agencies and our own Special Education Services department. Brandi told me it is gratifying to see the transformation that interns experience as they learn to master tasks that are intimidating when they begin the program. They carry that confidence and independence with them after graduation.


After my tour, I sat down with Brandi and others to talk about what they needed to make the program even more successful. 


They are hoping to add a second Project SEARCH site by 2025, and I will do all I can to support that effort.


I oversaw the special education department for Clinton City Schools for eight years, so students with special needs - and the people who have made it their life’s work to teach and nurture them - hold a special place in my heart.


These students need teachers who believe in their capabilities and then give them the right training and encouragement to help them achieve success.


That is certainly happening at Project SEARCH, as it is in many other vocational programs around the county.


Community partners like the good folks at Embassy Suites, who have truly embraced Project SEARCH, will be essential as we look to create even more opportunities for students with disabilities.


I look forward to working with the Board and staff to make sure meaningful programs such as this one grow and expand across our district.


With gratitude,


Dr. Robert P. Taylor