Skip to main content

United Way grant check presentation Jan 18
From left to right: Toms River board members Lisa Contessa and Jennifer Howe; United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties Vice President of Community Impact Christine Jagerburger; UWMOC President and CEO Lori McClane; UWMOC Chairperson Tom Hayes; Superintendent Mike Citta; UWMOC Chairperson Bob Rosone; Supervisor of Educational Technology and CTE Tiffany Lucey; Board President Kevin Kidney; and board members Ashley Lamb, Michele Williams, Vice President Kathy Eagan, Meslissa Morrison, and Joe Nardini

Project SPEARIT walls2

During the 2022-2023 school year, students enrolled in the SPEAR course pathway at High School South have been provided walls on which to master spackling, coping, installing base molding, and more.

Project SPEARIT walls1

SPEAR students use machinery (above) their cut their uniquely-designed trophies (below) for the Jan. 21 Slam Dunk Autism Challenge series of basketball games to be held at HSS. It's work like this that drives the program, and ultimately benefits the school and community.

SPEARIT designed autism challenge trophies
UWMOC Lori McClane Christine Jagerburger Tom Hayes and Bob Rosone

UWMOC's Lori McClane, Christine Jagerburger, Tom Hayes, and Bob Rosone

$100k grant from United Way to make program fully sustainable

Jan. 19, 2023-- Project SPEAR-IT, the immensely popular CTE and trades pathway hosted at High School South since 2019, has been provided a three-year grant extension through its funder, United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The $100,000 grant award runs through the 2024-2025 school year, and includes the program's implementation at High School North next year.

"It's been an amazing success," said Superintendent Michael Citta of the program during Wednesday's board meeting, which began with a celebration of the news with a formal check presentation. "We so excited to announce the expansion of this program, and without the support of the United Way, none of this could be done."

Citta has a personal connection to the program, since he oversaw Project SPEAR-IT's original implementation at HSS when he served as the school's principal.

SPEAR-IT was born out of UWMOC's Youth Career Pathways grant, and the program has gained steam over the years, even through a pandemic that halted the in-person, hands-on training on which the program largely relies. It began as a pre-apprenticeship program that teaches the trades-- electrical work, cutting, measuring, hand tools, design, and much more-- to freshmen and sophomores. Lead teacher Timothy O'Leary allowed his students a say in their work, and they responded with ideas that largely benefited their school and community, such as refurbishing the school's softball field benches, creating customized corn hole boards for staff and peers and, last year, building lifeguard stands for Ortley Beach.

The success of the program has increased interest and spurred its evolution. The program now has three official courses at South-- SPEAR 1, 2, and 3, open to grades 9 through 12-- and those enrolled are encouraged to pursue a pathway to Ocean County Vocational and Technical School. Its advancement to HSN will further increase awareness of the required skill, high-wage nature, and fun 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 going to bring this program here," said High School North Principal Ed Keller. "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."

On hand to celebrate the news were UWMOC President and CEO Lori McClane, board members Bob Rosone and Tom Hayes, and Vice President of Community Impact Christine Jagerburger.

“Three years ago we started out with a $30,000 grant, and we have just continued our partnership,” said McClane. “Not just at High School South and High School North, but we hope that we’ll be able to share this experience with the rest of the community.”

The grant funding will support, among other things, creation of the new site space at HSN, a stronger electrical infrastructure for the space at South, 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, including having it approved as a program of study for continued Perkins-based CTE funding.

And as preparations are made for the future, Project SPEAR-IT continues to have an impact on the present. Most recently, students have worked to design and build trophies for Saturday's upcoming Slam Dunk Autism Challenge basketball games, while others are fine-tuning their personal walls (below), on which they utilize their newfound skills in framing, electrical work, plumbing connections, and sheetrock.

“They still have to complete spackling, coping, installing base molding, and repairing holes in drywall,” said O’Leary. “But after they finish the interior portion, we will flip over the walls and learn how to roof the structure.”

The roof is an appropriate place to signify the heights this program has reached. That high-skill work like this will continue unabated and indefinitely is certainly cause for celebration. 

spear it walls photo 4

spear it walls photo 5

spear it walls photo 6
If these walls could talk, they'd tell the story of students learning how to frame, wire, hang drywall, patch holes, spackle, collaborate, and communicate. All in a day's work in the SPEAR pathway of courses.