NCC, Local High School Pilot Vocational Program For Older Students

Students from Fast Track Academy in Newark receive their textbooks from Instructor Tejumade V. Falae, standing, for the Certified Homemaker Home Health Aide Program.

In an exciting new collaboration, New Community Workforce Development Center has partnered with Fast Track Academy to offer vocational training to older students who are on the cusp of adulthood but need job skills to secure their futures.

Known within Newark Public Schools as a transfer school, Fast Track Academy targets youth ages 16 to 20, who are “over age and under credit,” using a non-traditional academic setting that Principal Mark Comesañas says aims to prepare students for either college or a career.

Located in Newark at a site neighboring NCC—inside the former Newton Street School—Fast Track Academy has 160 students, 32 staff and a primary focus of bridging the gap between a student’s final stretch of high school and the next stage of life.

Fast Track Academy students at New Community's Automotive Training Center, listening to Job Developer Ron Prysock, seated far right.
Fast Track Academy students on first day at New Community’s Automotive Training Center, with Job Developer Ron Prysock, seated far right.

That’s where New Community Workforce Development Center comes in.

After attending class from roughly 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., 40 students head to NCC from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. where 20 students participate in the Allied Health Training Program and the other half are in the Automotive Technician Employment and Training Program, according to Rodney Brutton, Director of Workforce Development.

Students in the automotive course attend lectures and receive hands-on training at New Community’s state-of-the-art Automotive Training Center on West Bigelow Street. The students who complete the allied health program will receive four certifications—as a home health aide, phlebotomy technician, EKG technician and clinical medical assistant.

“The exciting part of this initiative is connecting graduating seniors to quality career and technical education programs that leads to industry recognized credentials,” Brutton said. “This partnership is designed to get young adults into the workforce,” he added.

A creative mind, 19-year-old Divonte Perkins said he likes to work with his hands and dreams of moving to California and studying architecture one day. He views the automotive course as a practical way to land a job and save money for a car and an apartment. “It’s a good trade to take with you anywhere,” he said.

Robert Clark, special advisor to district Superintendent Cami Anderson, said that NPS is striving to better serve disengaged youth.

“We need to create a realistic pathway for them,” he said. “We want to figure out, ‘what do you want to do? How do we connect you to the local economy?’”

Clark added, “I think New Community probably has the largest job training infrastructure in the city,” noting that the partnership leverages the experience and programs of a community-based organization.

Students are accepted based on their attendance and grades, plus their responsibility, independence and personal maturity, said Comesañas, who goes by “Mr. C.”  “It’s a rite of passage for them,” he said.

In some ways, Fast Track Academy looks like a mainstream high school. Flyers advertising prom dot the hallways. Basketball games are as much about socializing as they are about sport. But the student to teacher ratio at Fast Track Academy is relatively small and the staff, who purposefully wear multiple hats, intentionally foster a deep sense of community within the school.

Each day begins with a morning meeting where students and staff gather in a circle and share a one word descriptor of their current mood or state of mind (lowering one’s defenses). When a student walks in tardy, he or she must give the group an explanation (accountability).

Ashley Rios, 18, said she struggled with school in the past because of a tough situation at home that left her filling the role of caretaker for her two younger brothers. Her favorite subject is biology and she said she’s looking forward to training in the allied health program. “It’ll be good for me,” she said.

If the pilot is successful, Comesañas said he dreams of expanding the track options to other vocational courses offered at NCC, such as the ShopRite or Culinary Arts Specialist training programs.

“This hopefully makes it more tangible and real for them,” Comesañas said. “It allows them to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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