(June 14, 2019) The Project SEARCH program was established at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin last summer so students with disabilities could receive job experience while completing high school courses, and now those students are graduating.


Carol Beatty, secretary of the Department of Disabilities, congratulates the inaugural Worcester County Project SEARCH graduates, from left, – Bradley Dornes, Tyler Howard, Toni Dixon and Deshawn Collick – during their graduation ceremony at Atlantic General Hospital on Wednesday, June 5. 

Four students – Deshawn Collick, Bradley Dornes, Toni Dixon and Tyler Howard – graduated from the inaugural Project SEARCH class on Wednesday, June 5 at Atlantic General Hospital.

“Everything we do here is taking care of somebody, and it all ends up taking care of the people in our community who are sick and need our help at the end point,” CEO and President Michael Franklin said. “But in between we take care of each other and make sure we all have what we need.

“And we have four students who were with us this past year who spent time learning how to interact with each other and learning how to interact in a way that’s helpful to each other and being part of a team,” he continued. “That’s really been a big blessing for Atlantic General Hospital, because it helped our team also to understand that we’re more than just taking care of sick people. We’re here for the community. And this is a great way of us giving back to the community.”

Project SEARCH is a high school transition program, with more than 500 locations in the U.S. and 10 countries. Its objective is to secure competitive employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. Worcester is the first county on the Eastern Shore to adopt this program.

The SEARCH Program is a partnership between Atlantic General Hospital, the Worcester County Board of Education, Worcester County Developmental Center and the Maryland Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Services.

During the graduation ceremony, Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor congratulated the students for their hard work and how well they represented themselves and their communities.

“What I tell our educational leaders [is] you need ask three questions of kids when they go out into the public,” Taylor said. “Ask them how well they represent themselves, how well they represent their families and how well they represent Worcester County public schools. And if you get positive answers of those three things, we’ve done our job.

“Today those four [interns] had done those three things,” he continued. “They’ve represented themselves well. They’ve certainly represented their families well by just being who they are, and they’ve represented our school system extremely well. So I am grateful to each of them for how they’ve carried themselves moving through this program.”

The interns performed several tasks, including sterilizing equipment and patient rooms, escorting patients to surgery, organizing paperwork and labeling medical supplies.

In September, the first class of Project SEARCH interns began their year of on-the-job training at the hospital.

The interns spent six hours a day there, rotating through three different work experiences during the school year. Onsite classroom training focused on employability and life skills provided by a county schoolteacher.

Transition Coordinator Matthew Elburn has noticed the immediate changes in several of his students and is proud of their growth.

“Every single one of them just grew immensely from the beginning of the year,” Elburn said. “[Tyler] is texting. He’s going into another department to talk to the staff. And he didn’t talk before. Deshawn … he’s had a very good year. A great learning year. He’s always been a good worker. He gets along with others and he can follow directions.”

One intern, Toni Dixon, accepted a full-time job offer at Atlantic General Hospital.

“Atlantic General Hospital is paying for her Wor-Wic CNA (certified nursing assistant) classes,” Elburn said. “They already hired her. She’s working with patients who are staying overnight and might need something.”

Dixon is “ecstatic” about her new career and loved her experience as an intern.

“My internship was fantastic. It was so much fun,” Dixon said. “I loved meeting the other interns … it was just really fantastic.”

The other interns also enjoyed their experiences as well.

“They treat me like a family,” Collick said. “I think I might want to come back here. I do my own thing and help others while I can.”

The next group of interns – comprised of four or five girls – will begin their program at the end of the summer.

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