WALL – United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (UWMOC) has awarded a $100,000 grant to Toms River Regional Schools to extend and expand a program that provides high school students with hands-on career and technical education experiences.
The program, titled Project SPEAR-IT, was founded in 2019 at Toms River High School South as a way to engage at-risk students who often disqualify themselves from vocational programs before they even get to their junior and senior years. The current grant under UWMOC’s Youth Vocational Pathways initiative has extended the program through the 2024-25 school year and includes the program’s expansion to Toms River High School North next year.
“Partnering with United Way has been a dream for Toms River High School South,” said Superintendent Mike Citta, who oversaw the original implementation of the program at High School South when he served as the school’s 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.”
Project SPEAR-IT is a pre-vocational program that teaches the trades – electrical work, plumbing, woodworking, design, and much more – to freshmen and sophomores. Lead teacher Timothy O’Leary and his students have developed projects that largely benefited their school and community, such as refurbishing the school’s softball field benches and building lifeguard stands for Ortley Beach.
The success of the program has increased interest and spurred its evolution. It now has three official courses at High School South, and those enrolled are encouraged to pursue a pathway to Ocean County Vocational and Technical School. Its advancement to High School North will further increase awareness of the required skill, high-wage nature, and satisfaction that comes with a career in the trades.
“We’ve watched from afar as SPEAR-IT has experienced success at South, and I’m thrilled for our current and future North students that we’re bringing this program here,” said Ed Keller, principal at Toms River North. “We’re extremely grateful to United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and I cannot wait to see what our students do with this opportunity.”
Representatives from United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties attended the Toms River Regional Board of Education meeting on January 18th to present the district with a check for the expansion of the program.
“Three years ago, we started this program with a $30,000 grant, and we couldn’t be happier with how our partnership with Toms River Schools has progressed,” said Lori McClane, President & CEO of United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. “We’re excited to continue to explore new and diverse opportunities for the program and share this experience with the rest of the community.”
The grant funding will support the creation of the new site space at Toms River North, hand tools and equipment, staff and student certifications, and real-world student learning experiences and field trips. Through strong curriculum writing and continued implementation, the district plans to make SPEAR-IT fully sustainable by the end of the new grant period. Building off of the success of this project, United Way plans to expand its Youth Vocational Pathways work to additional communities throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.
To learn more about UWMOC’s Youth Vocational Pathways initiative, visit uwmoc.org.