Beginning this year, local high school students on the cusp of graduation will be able to work in a factory and potentially get a job before earning a high school diploma.

Thursday marked the beginning of the local Project SEARCH program, a national program based in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that helps workforce development for people with disabilities. The program is a partnership between Dow Chemical Company, Cincinnati Chil­d­ren’s Hospital Medical Center, Har­din County Schools and Elizabethtown Inde­pen­dent Schools. There are dozens of similar partnerships across the country.

“Project SEARCH is a partnership between a company and a school system that will allow students to gain independence and to learn skills and tasks that you can only gain in the real world,” said Nancy Mc­Coy, quality management representative at Dow.

The program works as an internship, Mc­Coy said. The students perform tasks such as creating an Excel spreadsheet that outlines safety hazards at the company, typing up job procedures, scanning documents and other duties.

McCoy said this program helps address the issue of finding capable workers instead of those who fail to complete basic tasks such as showing up to work on time.

“As a county, we struggle to find people that just want to come to work so that’s a skill that we’re trying to build here,” she said. “That’s one skill we hope to kind of bridge with them.”

There are seven students in the first group of the Hardin County program. Stu­dents must have completed their high school graduation requirements before being accep­ted into the program. They officially will get their high school diploma at the end of this school year.

For the students’ first day, they were gi­ven a tour of the Dow plant and did team-­building exercises.

McCoy hoped to keep in touch with the students after the program was over.

“I’m very excited about the program,” she said. “To me, anytime you help people in the community, I think that’s great.”

Trey Crumbie can be reached at 270-505-1747 or tcrumbie@thenewsenterprise.com.

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