Student engagement is an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. One of the goals of our Youth Vocational Training program is to engage at-risk high school students early on to prevent them from becoming disaffected, which often leads to decreased attendance and dropping out of school altogether.
Youth Vocational Training exposes and connects youth to a diverse array of career options and fields, including hands-on learning opportunities. As part of our work in this initiative, we partnered with Toms River High School South to create Project SPEAR-IT – a pre-apprenticeship program for freshmen and sophomores who may be interested in pursuing vocational and technical careers. The project also helps students become eligible for programs with Ocean County Vocational Technical Schools.
Despite school closures and the absence of in-person instruction for most of 2020, students didn’t miss the opportunity to enhance their learning. Lead teacher of Project SPEAR-IT, Mr. O’Leary, was able to transition the program to a virtual model -- which included how-to instructional videos and Google Meet discussions. Prior to the pandemic, attendance rates were even stronger than expected, and that engagement transitioned to distance learning with a 98-percent attendance rate for the program’s virtual classes.