Students get 'job-ready' through Blue Cross partnership

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This is the second in a year-long series of articles about the Project SEARCH collaboration between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of RI and the Cranston Public Schools.

On Thursday mornings, the conference room-style classroom inside the Blue Cross and Blue Shield office building at 500 Exchange Street is a busy place.

Seven professionally-dressed interns sit around the table in the center of the room, their attention turned to the smart-board in the front of the room. The display shown matches the page that the students have in front of them, a graphic organizer on which the interns can each list their own personal goals for independence spanning several areas: jobs and employment, health and wellness, and independent living. Each student has the opportunity to consider what it is they wish to accomplish over the next school year. The goals must be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.)

“Our SMART goals are constantly referenced and referred to during employment conferences and during each job placement,” said Kelly Starliper, a Cranston Public Schools teacher who works on site with the interns throughout the year. “Over the past few days’ time, we have also worked on vocational inventories and skill inventories. Next week we will be scheduling interviews and practicing mock interviews with the students.”

She noted that the interns receive extra help with those particular skills from Lauren Cotnoir, a Campus and Diversity Recruiter from Citizens Bank, who is a mentor to the interns in the Project SEARCH program. Starliper is also assisted by a several other adults in the Project SEARCH partnership, including job coach Donna McKenna (also a Cranston Public Schools employee), vocational counselor from the Office of Rehabilitative Services, Laura Allbee, job developer from Perspectives Corporation, Adrienne Oberg, BCBSRI liaison Trish Ginetti, Behavioral Health Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) case manager, Kelly Petersen, BHDDH representative for the steering committee, Sue Hayward, and Michele Simpson, Cranston Public Schools Director of Pupil Personnel Services.

“This is truly a collaborative effort and a partnership,” Starliper said.

According to Starliper, the job search process is multifaceted for the interns, with a great deal of input and personalization from them along the way.

“The students come in with ideas, and we hone in on their interests, rather than just honing in on one job,” she said. “On Tuesday, we wrote resumes and we’re working on job inventories which narrow down their interests and skills into job clusters.”

As the students work towards narrowing down their job choices for their first internship rotation, set to begin in October, other topics are discussed in the classroom as well, including personal rights, rights at work, responsibilities, and how to handle emergencies.

There is also a health and wellness curriculum (Health Matters: Health and Wellness Curriculum for People with Developmental Disabilities), as well as gym workout time each day, spent in the gym facility at BCBSRI (gym membership courtesy of BCBSRI).

Additionally, time is spent creating a profile on each intern to help in the job development process and includes information gathered from the interest surveys. Soft skills are practiced which are needed on the job: how to leave a voicemail, how to call if one is expecting to be late for work, how to use the revolving door at the entrance to the building and the turnstiles located inside.

During the classroom time, the student interns do a lot of reporting out and sharing of their goals and experiences, oftentimes sharing their information verbally and on a chart-paper poster on the wall, including an “all about me” list and their SMART goals.

As the year progresses, each student's poster area will go through changes as well, and at the end of the year the interns will take their collection of personalized posters home with them, reflecting the changes and experiences, which have taken place.

“Over the year we will see the progression of the poster area,” Starliper said. “Each activity we do informs and builds on the last.”

Throughout the internship rotations, there will be weekly evaluations, which will focus on the interns’ levels of independence, social behaviors, communication skills and job performance. There will also be weekly self-evaluations as well as monthly supervisor evaluations.

The first job rotation will begin in October.

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