Dante Hernandez, a ninth-grader at tech high school, never imagined that an Oculus headset would be his way of getting to work.
This summer, it is – and his office is in the virtual world.
While some teenagers find retail or restaurant jobs, Hernandez and 50 other Newark students are spending their school vacations in an immersive reality called the Metaverse, a virtual version of everything you can do in real life. For six weeks, students learn the skills to code, develop virtual software, and find ways to put their newfound knowledge to the test.
“We enter a virtual building and everything is there for us. We’re just starting to learn,” Hernandez said. “Things like that opened our eyes more to see, for example, what the metaverse has in store for us in the future.”
This summer, approximately 3,000 Newark students ages 14 to 24 are working in career and technical education-related jobs through the Newark Youth Summer Jobs Program. The city places and pays students each year in a variety of summer jobs and internships where they gain hands-on experience that provides them with the skills needed to achieve their future career goals.
The drive to provide more vocational and technical education has intensified over the years, especially as the pandemic has forced schools to seek new ways to engage students who have become disconnected from learning. State and local leaders also noted the importance of having more of these programs for high school students seeking opportunities after graduation.
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, approximately 77,000 high school students in the state participate in vocational and technical training courses. Experts say students in these streams have a 10% higher graduation rate from high school than those who do not.
National and local authorities are also pushing for more opportunities for students.
Last week, Governor Phil Murphy awarded school districts and county colleges a second round of grants under the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act. The grants will fund improvements and enhancements to vocational and technical education programs at county technical and vocational school districts and county colleges throughout New Jersey.
This year, Newark’s summer program launched its VR trail with 51 students who had little or no VR experience.