The Somerset County Educational Services Commission is moving forward with a plan to provide vocational opportunities for those at risk students who are normally placed out of district—and the partnership will be located in Bridgewater.
Just adjacent to its current facility off Finderne Avenue, the commission is looking to provide new services for students who are normally placed out of the districts throughout the county, including the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District.
The new operations, according to Bridgewater-Raritan board of education vice president Patrick Breslin, will focus on teaching grocery store jobs, warehousing and groundskeeping, among others.
And the facility, Breslin said, will include a partnership with the Raritan Valley Community College, the Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School and Shoprite, which will be operating a full grocery store out of the building.
“It will take a little more than a year until we have access, and then we might see the ability to do out-of-district placements closer to home,” he said. “This is good news.”
According to Harold Dunsavage, superintendent of the Somerset County Educational Services Commission, the school itself is for special education and other at-risk students. When the school moved into the building, he said, the vision was to keep expanding services for the 18 sending districts.
“When we purchased it, there was a warehouse next to it, and we wanted to convert it to a Vo-Tech for special education students,” he said. “I have been the voice of special education students during my 32 years in education, with alternative and special education my whole career. They have an opportunity to be as successful as regular education students.”
The funding for the new facility has been approved by the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and is expected to cost about $8 million, which will be paid through bonds that Dunsavage said the commission will have to pay back.
“We are selling bonds to pay back the money,” he said. “Tuition will hopefully be reduced when it is paid for.”
Basically, Dunsavage said, there are going to be three shops, the first being an actual Shoprite to teach supermarket skills.
Dunsavage said the school has partnered with Shoprite, and the store will be fully functioning with its own ID number and design, and it will be open to the public.
“Shoprite wants to employ these students, and will help us certify them,” he said. “They will get certification from Vo-Tech.”
Dunsavage said this program was actually a part of the Vo-Tech itself, but it was cut out of the program. In the new program, they will learn to stock shelves, work registers and unload trucks, among other work.
“Shoprite is invested in this because they want to hire employees,” he said.
The second section, Dunsavage said, will be warehousing and building and maintenance.
For example, Dunsavage said, students will have the opportunity to use forklifts, unload packages and do other work that is required in warehouses and for maintenance.
The last piece, Dunsavage said, is landscaping.
“These students are very good with their hands, and there is a need for landscapers working with companies,” he said.
In addition, Dunsavage said, the building will have a full gymnasium that can be rented out to the public.
The construction is expected to be finished in time for the 2014-2015 school year.
Dunsavage said they have formed a partnership with the Vo-Tech for three certified shop teachers, and he is also in talks with RVCC. In the latter partnership, he said, he is hoping to be able to have RVCC rent the facility to offer adult education classes in the evenings for those who don’t meet the criteria to enter the college fully.
“This is going to stir the economy, create jobs and provide services for special education students in the county and beyond,” he said. “This is a very exciting project.”
“With all the cuts in education, it is nice to build a program for these students,” he added.
At the end of the programs, which begin in ninth grade, students will receive a high school diploma and certification from the Vo-Tech that they are skilled in the specific area they studied.
“Right now we don’t offer anything like this, and I don’t know of anything that does except the Vo-Tech, and they only accept special education students on a case-by-case basis,” Dunsavage said. “This is for any student enrolled in our program.”
Dunsavage said he has been working toward implementing this kind of program for seven years, and is pleased with all the additional education it will bring.
“This is a very exciting project,” he said. “I am looking forward to working with all the administrators to make this program very successful.”