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Ribbon cutting for NorthSTAR photo 1
NorthSTAR student Sam Anderson holds one end of the ribbon-- teacher Brian Ainley holds the other-- as UWMOC board member Tom Hayes, Superintendent Mike Citta, and UWMOC President and CEO Lori McLane do the cutting, and UWMOC reps, district leaders, and students gather 'round to celebrate the CTE program's official grand opening. 

A celebration of 'good ol' brick and mortar'

Lori-Ann McClane and Mike Citta

UWMOC President and CEO Lori-Ann McLane stands proudly with Superintendent Citta.

Nov. 17, 2023-- The ribbon for an unveiling ceremony has to be measured for proper length. The approximate center has to be located, and the person doing the cutting needs a steady hand and the right tools-- namely an oversized pair of unusable scissors for photos, and actual pair of scissors to get the job done.

The ceremonial meets the practical.

In this case, the ribbon-cutting gesture proved apropos, as it unveiled one of the most hands-on and practical programs the district has to offer.

Many gathered yesterday in room E-02 at High School North to welcome NorthSTAR, the CTE program and extension of Project SPEAR-IT at High School South. Representatives from the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties-- which funds both programs through its Youth Career Pathways Grant-- joined district leaders, teachers, and students past and present to celebrate the program and its early successes.

"I must thank our friends at the United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties," said Superintendent Michael Citta, "who chose to reinvest into the community to further everyone's vision. And sometimes, there is no better way to make a difference than through good ol' brick and mortar."

NorthSTAR is led by teacher Brian Ainley who-- along with Tim O'Leary at HSS-- possesses a unique blend of academic knowledge (Ainley had taught and continues to teach history) and contractor-type skills-- and who has proved perfect for the job. Nineteen students are currently enrolled, but word and interest are spreading fast.

O'Leary started with a similar initial enrollment at South in 2019. Now, he has more than 70 students enrolled across three SPEAR courses.

"At worst," High School North Principal Ed Keller said to his NorthSTAR students during his opening remarks, "you're going to attain real-world skills that will last you a lifetime, and serve you well. And at best, you're on your way to a long-lasting, high-paying, productive career. How great is that?"

Tom Hayes, chair of the UWMOC Community Impact Committee and director of Customer Community Relations at New Jersey Natural Gas, echoed those sentiments.

"At New Jersey Natural Gas, we appreciate this as many of the HVAC students can work for our family of companies which provides good salaries, benefits, and more," Hayes said. "Society needs more electricians and plumbers, so this program hits the mark."

two students fool around

There was playful fooling around during the mingling portion of the event, but never during actual classes, as the signage near NorthSTAR's equipment makes clear.

The program was made possible thanks to a three-year extension of the Youth Career Pathways Grant for Toms River worth $100,000, awarded by UWMOC and announced in 2022. Principal Keller, Ainley, and many others spent last school year making preparations-- recruiting students, ordering supplies, and refining the curriculum. NorthSTAR has been up and running since the beginning of this school year.

“We are so excited to celebrate the expansion of the program with the official ribbon cutting for NorthSTAR," said UWMOC President and CEO Lori-Ann McLane. "Thank you to Toms River Regional Schools for their ongoing commitment and dedication to this project and students. They have been a tremendous partner since the start of the project four years ago, and we look forward to our continuing collaboration.”

The overall feeling among the partners who've collaborated to make SPEAR-IT and NorthSTAR possible was one of mutual admiration, respect, and gratitude.

"The United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties is a fantastic organization that is providing cutting edge programs to get local high school students involved with careers in the trades such as plumbing, electrical and HVAC" said Hayes. "The Toms River School District leadership truly cares about their students and brings these top notch programs to their schools. They truly live united!"

During the event, Colossus Media Group captured video, photos, and conducted one-on-one interviews. Stay tuned for more from CMG about the past, present, and future of the CTE programs and their long-lasting impact.