United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (UWMOC) is bridging the gap to a quality education for a brighter future. Our programs and partnerships in education provide much-needed support for youth to help them continue to grow and thrive.
As part of our education work, UWMOC developed the Youth Vocational Training initiative in 2019 to address the gap in exposure and awareness to a diverse array of career pathways, including vocational fields. Through that process, we partnered with Toms River High School South to create Project SPEAR-IT – a pre-apprenticeship program for freshmen who may be interested in pursuing vocational and technical careers. One of the goals of the program is to engage at-risk high school students early on to prevent them from becoming disaffected, which can lead to decreased attendance and dropping out of school altogether.
“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. The culmination of their learning experience is demonstrated through this year’s capstone project where students put their skills to the test to build nine lifeguard stands for Ortley Beach, which will be delivered to the town just in time for the summer.
Attendance rates for Project SPEAR-IT have been even stronger than expected, especially with students eager to get back into the classroom for this 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. It’s like a dream come true, and I’m so proud to be a part of this project."