Celebration of 35th Anniversary of Special Education Law Recognizes Project SEARCH as Living Example of its Impact 

January 6, 2011

Project SEARCH, 2010-11 school year
Project SEARCH students celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Project SEARCH student Vender Cherry
Project SEARCH and DCPS student Vander Cherry introduced Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

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DC Public Schools student Vander Cherry welcomed the crowd to the Russell Senate Office Building in honor of the 35th Anniversary of the Passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law that ensures that all students with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting. 

The event was hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in November.

Vander also had the honor of introducing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a man who, to Vander, is more than the man tasked with shaping education policy in the United States. Secretary Duncan also is Vander’s boss.

Vander is one of approximately five students who attends class – and works – at the Department of Education as part of Project SEARCH, a one-year internship program for DCPS students with disabilities who are 18-21 years old and in their last year of high school. This program is an example of the types of programs and support services available to students thanks to IDEA.

Project SEARCH students work on a 10 to 12 week supported employment rotation in a variety of offices within a government agency or private organization.

Through Project SEARCH, students have the opportunity to learn competitive and marketable job skills, which can increase their independence, confidence and self-esteem. Employers have the opportunity to access a new and diverse talent stream with skills that match their labor needs.

“Getting the opportunity to work in multiple offices made me realize that you have to love what you do at work,” said Vander. “I have the drive to come every day to Project SEARCH, but if I love my internship, that makes me want to do extra things that I don’t even have to do to help my supervisor out because I don’t want to break the strong bond that we have.”

Currently, there are 30 DCPS students who participate in Project SEARCH programs at the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

Project SEARCH students also receive support from multiple sources – their job, DCPS and the District. At the job site, they have access to a training classroom, business liaison, mentors and different rotational internships for on-the-job training. They also have an instructor, aide and transition coordinator.

Vander credits Project SEARCH for helping to increase the confidence he has in himself and in his abilities.

“Project SEARCH has been a good experience because it forces me to go above and beyond, to push myself, even when it’s a struggle,” said Vander. “It forces me to grow when I see my fellow students succeed every day.”

This year, 36 DCPS students will participate in Project SEARCH. By the end of the school year, they will have learned employable skills in the classroom and practical job skills while at work to help advance their post-secondary goals. 

To learn more about Project SEARCH and how to apply, please contact Deirdre Williams, (202) 442-4800.

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