UNITED WAY AND TOMS RIVER REGIONAL SCHOOLS IN THE “SPEAR-IT”
TO CELEBRATE A SUCCESSFUL PRE-VOCATIONAL PROGRAM
United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (UWMOC) and Toms River Regional Schools have formed a partnership to create a pre-vocational program that’s making a big impact on high school students and the community.
Project SPEAR-IT (South’s Pre-Vocational Educational Alternatives Resource Institute) was founded in 2019 at Toms River High School South as part of a grant from UWMOC’s Youth Career Pathways initiative. The program is based on a growing need and interest in public schools for authentic career and technical education (CTE) experiences. It is especially beneficial for at-risk students who often disqualify themselves from vocational programs before they even get to their sophomore and junior years.
“There’s this notion that every kid has to go to college, but that isn’t the only pathway to having a good life,” said Timothy O’Leary, lead teacher of Project SPEAR-IT. “You can come out of vo-tech with a skill or a trade and make a great living for you and your family.”
Students in Project SPEAR-IT are exposed to a variety of skills, including electric, woodworking and even plumbing. Over the past three years, attendance rates for the program have been even stronger than expected, especially with students eager to get back into the classroom this past school year after over a year of distance learning. Even throughout the pandemic, the program’s virtual classes had a 98-percent attendance rate and kept students engaged.
“There are kids that aren’t really doing well in school, but they’re excited to learn and work on their projects,” adds Mr. O’Leary. “The program is keeping them interested and building their confidence. It’s amazing what United Way has done for our school and I’m so proud to be a part of this project."
The culmination of the students’ learning experience was demonstrated through this year’s capstone project, where they put their skills to the test to build nine lifeguard stands for Ortley Beach. Students, administrators, board members, and representatives from United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties gathered at High School South on May 12 in celebration of Project SPEAR-IT and to see the culmination of the students’ hard work throughout the school year. UWMOC representatives helped students affix co-branded nameplates to the lifeguard stands, which will be delivered to Ortley Beach to be used this summer.
"We couldn't be prouder of our partnership with Toms River Regional Schools and the work that the students have done this year," said Lori McLane, President & CEO of UWMOC. "We're excited to explore new and diverse opportunities for the program so we can continue to bridge this gap in education."
“Partnering with United Way has been a dream for Toms River High School South,” said Superintendent Mike Citta, who championed the program as the high school’s former principal. “The support, resources and guidance that have been provided to our students and staff has been immeasurable. We have so much gratitude for United Way and their investment into our kids.”
CLICK HERE to learn more about UWMOC’s Youth Career Pathways initiative.