Preparing Special Needs Students For The Future

Posted at 9:45 PM, May 17, 2016

A new Metro Schools program is working to make sure students with disabilities don't get lost in the system by pairing them with local businesses.

DJ Smith loves his job.

"Everyone around here is nice to me and this is a nice place to be in," he said, during the lunchtime rush at the Arby's at MetroCenter. 

DJ shows up weekdays for a few hours to help out. He cleans tables, restocks ice and keeps the place clean and running.

"He's spectacular," said Arby's manager Michael Bing, "ever since the first day he came in he's non-stop, very polite, great with the guests."

DJ is part of a national program that's still relatively new to Metro schools. Project Search targets kids with developmental and intellectual disabilities and rotates them through internships to help the students find paying jobs for the future.

"This gives them an option to be able to learn some skills and use those skills," said job coach Pam Hollingsworth. She noted that some special needs kids can get lost in their respective school systems, not always getting what they need.

Tuesday, DJ graduated in  a class of seven students. And now his job at Arby's isn't just an internship. He's climbed the ladder and is getting paid.

You can tell he's pretty excited about it.

"I'll celebrate at the end of the day with a dance!" he laughed, dancing.

His situation is exactly what the program aims for: giving a kid, who might otherwise be overlooked, an opportunity to help himself for the future.

Out of the seven interns in the program, six are already placed with paying jobs after they graduate. Metro hopes to expand the program to include a larger class of students next year.