Representatives from United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties gathered with Toms River Regional students, administrators and board members at High School South on May 12 in celebration of Project SPEAR-IT, the CTE program having a big impact on students and the community.
Project SPEAR-IT (South’s Pre-Vocational Educational Alternatives Resource Institute) was founded as a result of the Youth Career Pathways grant from United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (UWMOC), and has been hosted at Toms River High School South since 2019. Since that time, thanks to a global pandemic, the program has not been able to be properly celebrated -- until now.
What was originally scripted as a "grand-opening" event became a celebration and acknowledgement of an incredibly successful program now completing its third year. The CTE course, led by instructor Tim O'Leary, teaches students hands-on skills from carpentry to electrical work to plumbing.
"This program has been remarkable for this school, our district, and of course of our students," said Superintendent Mike Citta as the event kicked off. "We have the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties to thank for that. You have funded this program from the start -- everything, from soup to nuts. Thank you."
This year's capstone project was building nine lifeguard stands for Ortley Beach, a mutually-beneficial arrangement initiated by Toms River Township, which contributed funding for all of the supplies while Mr. O'Leary guided his students throughout the building process. Those lifeguard stands lined the back of HSS's baseball field, and the highlight of the event was when UWMOC representatives helped students affix branded nameplates to the stands.
The event began with a tour of the space for UWMOC leaders, board members, and volunteers. Then, everyone gathered on the field, where Superintendent Citta (who helped implement the program originally as HSS principal), UWMOC President and CEO Lori-Ann McLane, and UWMOC Community Impact Committee Chairperson Tom Hayes spoke about what the program has meant to students and the community. In attendance were district administrators, board members, HSS staff and, of course, SPEAR-IT students, who donned new sweatshirts branded with the program's logo.
The program has become the signature CTE program within the district, and helped kickstart Toms River Regional Schools' pursuit of federal Perkins CTE funding and a multi-year state grant introducing intermediate students to CTE pathways. Several years of funding from UWMOC totaling $60k have helped the program secure the tools, equipment, and supplies it needs to sustain itself-- in addition to individual donations from the township, Lowe's, and Central Ocean Rotary-- and the district is hoping to achieve ultimate sustainability for SPEAR-IT by having it approved as a three-course sequence, and expanding it to another building.
"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."
This celebration served as a proper recognition of its remarkable progress thus far. Dozens of High School South students since 2019 have developed new or improved existing trade skills; many, through the program, have come to the realization that the CTE pathway is their calling; and some have already, or have plans to graduate to Ocean County Vocational and Technical School. Something worth celebrating, indeed.
CLICK HERE to learn more about Project SPEAR-IT