Oct. 15, 2021: What qualifies as “career and technical education,” or CTE, has evolved in recent years to align with industry demand and student interest. The New Jersey Department of Education has been out in front of this evolution, designing programs and funding opportunities that include career exploration in traditional CTE fields like manufacturing and construction, but also more modern paths like computer science and business studies. On behalf of its students, Toms River Regional Schools has seized on these opportunities.
Last year was the district’s first as a grantee of Carl D. Perkins funding, a federal grant filtered through the state which supports CTE education at the high school level. Through Perkins, the district was able to have approved, and thus funded, programs of study in finance, digital arts, manufacturing, IT, and radio and TV broadcasting, with more in the works.
Entering its second year of Perkins, the district felt confident in pursuing a competitive grant opportunity which would introduce CTE to its intermediate students. The NJDOE’s Middle Grades Career Awareness and Exploration Program was, as district Supervisor of Educational Technology, Careers and Life Skills, Tiffany Lucey put it, “Right up our alley; this grant will provide us with the tools to enhance and improve our life-skills programs over the next three years,” and so the district got to work designing an application and full-scale program, which it deemed the Bridge to the Future (B2F) project.
Lucey, in collaboration with Director of Curriculum 6-12 Adrienne Gold, Assistant Superintendent Cara DiMeo, and Grant Writer Mike Kenny, must have stated Toms River’s case well.
The district has received pre-approval for the grant, and is currently finalizing the process.
“This opportunity is the ideal continuum of our efforts in CTE thus far, and ensures that sustainability that we’re always striving for,” said DiMeo. “Our expectation is that our students, as early as sixth grade, will be thinking about their career options, and we’ll be providing the resources and mentorships to help them along those pathways.”
All told, between Perkins and the Middle Grades grant, the district will be utilizing more than $153,000 in state funding to support career and technical education, a huge boost in the context of TRRS’s ongoing fight to restore the millions lost in state aid as a result of Bill S2. And that does not include the CTE-based Project SPEAR-IT at High School South, which the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties is supporting for another cycle with $30k in funding.
“The huge strides this district has made in career education is impressive to say the least, and something this community and our students have really embraced,” said Superintendent Stephen Genco. “If our mission is to prepare our students for the real world-- and indeed it is-- we’re truly fulfilling that mission every day through the resources, mentors, and experiences provided by these programs.”
The B2F project is designed to empower and equip the guidance counselors at the secondary level with the resources to help students determine what type of careers match their interests and personalities, and ensure those pathways transition seamlessly from middle to high school. Leading this effort on the ground will be Intermediate South counselor Betty Velez-Gimbel, High School East counselor Elise Weinberger, and a robust teacher cohort of life skills teachers and educators of other focused content areas.
It’s anticipated that the program will get underway in the coming weeks. When it does, the pathway to career success will be extended even further at Toms River Regional Schools. With such a bridge in place, the future indeed looks bright.