Program Summary: Salem County, New Jersey is in the southwest corner of the state, just across the Delaware border. Its population (64,000) makes it the smallest county in the state. Only one town has more than 10,000 people. Salem County has the lowest median income of any New Jersey county. It has a high dropout rate and a higher than average rate of persons with disabilities. Although Salem County is a rural county, it is considered to be within the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Like many rural counties, it has limited work opportunities for young people, and unemployment and underemployment in Salem County are higher than the New Jersey average most years.
In 1995, Salem County school districts worked together and sought funding from the School to Work Opportunities Act (STWOA). This funding was earmarked for a program to help at-risk youth and young adults to finish high school, take college-level classes, and have structured work experiences that would lead to successful transitions to adulthood. While the grant money has run out, the Salem County School-to-Careers Initiative has continued with numerous successful outcomes every year.
The Salem County School-to-Careers Initiative is a two-year program that serves youth ages 16 through 25 who lack a high school diploma. The program combines academic and vocational instruction and includes a heavy emphasis on workplace learning.
Program Structure/Design: Salem County has five regular public high schools, a vocational high school, and an adult high school that serves individuals who have left the regular public school system but wish to receive a high school diploma.
The Salem County School-to-Careers Initiative serves youth between the ages of 16 and 25 who do not yet have a high school diploma. The program’s goal is to combine academic and vocational activities in a structured two-year program. During the school year, students attend their home high school or the adult high school in the morning. Three afternoons per week students attend the local community college, taking courses related to career interests. The other two afternoons per week and in the summer, they apply their academic learning in the workplace.
The mission of the Initiative is to admit students who can best benefit from the program. To keep bias out of the selection process, several groups are involved in deciding which students will be able to participate. This includes representatives from labor, industry, vocational rehabilitation, the commission on women, guidance counselors, the probation department, education, and minority organizations. An ongoing steering committee includes representatives from the five county school districts, the special services school district, Salem County Vocational School, Salem Community College, Rowan University, labor unions, the County sheriff, elected officials, employment training, social services, the inter-agency council, the commission on women, people with disabilities, the court system, parent and student representatives, and vocational rehabilitation.
States of Operation: NJ
• Out-of-school youth
• In-school youth
• Runaway and homeless youth
• Youth with disabilities
• Pregnant or parenting youth
• Youth offenders
• Youth in foster care or aging out
• Minority youth
ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2007
Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: While in the workplace, mentors counsel the students on the educational requirements needed to reach their vocational goals along with soft skills related to gaining and keeping employment. Although a few employers have hired graduating students, the majority of employers do not guarantee students a job after they have completed the Initiative. Instead, students are strongly encouraged to continue their education at a postsecondary institution or at a trade school. Typical work placements during the program are in medical offices, banks, industrial settings, hospitality, and food service.
Connecting Activities: The Salem County School-to-Careers Initiative takes pride in being able to serve youth with a wide range of academic and cognitive skills. In a typical year, more than 20% of participants have documented disabilities. It is suspected that many more students have hidden or undisclosed disabilities. Participants with cognitive and learning disabilities are strongly supported by tutoring, extra class time, and referral to specialists. Students with physical disabilities receive continued support from the school system as prescribed in the IEP.
The college’s office for students with disabilities also becomes involved in individual cases. Each participant is individually assessed prior to beginning classes both in the high school and in the community college and is also provided with a school-based mentor to help him or her with academics and with related work issues. In the community college, accommodations and supports are made available for all students taking classes based on assessment results.
Management: The Initiative works hard to collaborate with existing programs and educational systems. Because some of the educational activities take place in regular high school classrooms, communication with teachers must be strong. Regular in-service teacher training is made available to all area high schools related to school to work activities. Program staff members have many opportunities for training, including special classes on working with youth with disabilities. The project director has been in place for over nine years and spends much of his time developing relationships with partners and potential partners throughout the year.
The program has been featured in local and national press; this has made it well known in the service area. Marketing and recruitment is done in classrooms, school assemblies, and IEP meetings, and through word-of-mouth.
EVIDENCE OF SUCCESS (INFORMATION AND ANALYSIS)
Data: Since the Initiative’s inception on September 1, 1995, 371 young people have been enrolled in the Initiative. Over 99% have successfully completed the program (including high school completion). A majority of these students have disabilities, were in the juvenile justice system, were single parents, were former drop-outs, or were from at-risk living situations
Third-Party Documentation: At the end of the STWOA funding (2000), Rowan University did an extensive external evaluation of the program. Its findings showed success and satisfaction among participants including the students, employers, teachers, and others who were surveyed for the evaluation.
Of particular interest in this study are survey results from school personnel and students enrolled in the program. The program was found to be effective or highly effective by over 90% of school coordinators in these areas:
- Integrating academic learning experiences with work-based learning experiences;
- Expanding secondary and postsecondary educational linkages;
- Providing job opportunities;
- Providing opportunities for participants to give and receive feedback;
- And overcoming transportation problems.
The program was found to be effective or highly effective by over 80% of students in these areas:
- Helping to identify educational goals;
- Making them aware of career opportunities;
- Helping to identify career goals;
- Teaching academic skills related to work and careers;
- Helping to build self-confidence;
- And developing strong mentor relationships.
Organization Name: Pennsville School District
Organization Director: H. Glen Donelson
Program Name: Salem County School-to-Careers Initiative
Street Address: 30 Church Street
Contact Person: H. Glen Donelson
Contact Title: Project Director
Contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org