MMSD celebrates six Project SEARCH graduates | Education

The dreams they dared to dream have really come true.

As Maya Edgoose and Jomar Pabon Rodriguez sang “Over the Rainbow” in a UW Hospital auditorium Friday afternoon, they could have talked about themselves and their four peers, all Project SEARCH graduates. The program, which started here in 2008, connects students with disabilities to work opportunities, giving them experience and eventually full-time employment upon completion.

Friday’s ceremony highlighted this year’s Madison Metropolitan School District intern graduates: Edgoose, Rodriguez and Kaitlyn Goldschmidt from West High School, Augustine Tatus Jr. from La Follete High School, Ariel Lettman from East High School and Liam Higgins from Memorial High School.

“What I really love about Project SEARCH is the fact that we all learn a lot of amazing things from each other. It makes me really great and proud to be part of Project SEARCH,” Rodriguez said during his speech “I also really appreciate that Project SEARCH gives students the skills to be independent and successful.”

Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins presents a certificate of completion to Project SEARCH graduate Jomar Pabon Rodriguez.

Teacher Jason Penticoff praised the group for their resilience during a difficult year.

“These young men and women, some of whom had been out of school for more than 18 months, arrived ready to learn, work and find employment,” Penticoff said. “These six students have all found jobs; they didn’t just find a job, they found a career.

“None of these careers were given to them, let it be understood. They deserved it.

The ceremony included speeches from a variety of people connected to the program, including Penticoff, Workforce Development Department Assistant Undersecretary Danielle Williams, MMSD Assistant Director of Student Services Nancy Molfenter, and former intern Christina Anderson, who graduated from the program in 2013.

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Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins presents a Certificate of Completion to Project SEARCH graduate Augustine Tatus Jr.

Each of the students in attendance also spoke, sharing their internships, expressing their appreciation for those who helped them, and discussing their future goals.

Tatus Jr., for example, worked at the VA sorting laundry before moving to UW Environmental Services, where he again sorted laundry and was hired for a job. Edgoose worked through four internships, eventually being hired at the VA Medical Clinic.

“I would like to thank all the teachers for giving me the opportunity to be in a program that helps people like me and all the departments where I interned for giving me the opportunity to work there”, Edgoose said.

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Project SEARCH graduate Arial Lettman talks about her experience in the program and the job she was hired for.

Molfenter said after the ceremony that events like this are “a reminder of why we do everything we do in our school district and our special education services.”

“When you see on the screen that our academics have been hired and where they have been hired, that’s what all education leads to,” Molfenter said. “For me, it’s definitely one of the best days of the year.”

Williams of DWD also called it a big day for Wisconsin.

“We spend a lot of time talking about employers looking for workers and we know there are a lot of people, including people with disabilities, looking for work,” Williams said. “Programs like this really expose these interns and workers to employment opportunities, but also expose employers and their staff to what it means to work with someone who might have a disability, but who is not also an excellent colleague.”

Molfenter, who began her career as a transition teacher for students transitioning from school to adulthood, called Project SEARCH “something we’re really getting in the field.”

“I don’t think there is a better model than Project SEARCH for our academics who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and who aim to find employment after their school transition,” she said. “I would like to see him continue to grow.”

She noted the meaning of the song sung by Edgoose and Rodriguez.

“It was what they dreamed of, for years they dreamed that they could be employed, earn money and be independent,” she said. “Our staff helped them get there with their families and other people. It was really amazing.

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Project SEARCH graduates Jomar Pabon Rodriguez, left, and Maya Edgoose, center, celebrate after singing “Over the Rainbow” together to end the graduation ceremony on Friday.

It may have been a step towards another dream for Rodriguez, who said one of his goals in life was to become a professional musical artist. MMSD Superintendent Carlton Jenkins approached him and Edgoose after the ceremony to book them for a gig: singing for MMSD staff at an upcoming all-staff meeting later this month.

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