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Grant Supports Under-Resourced Students in RCSJ–VHS Partnership

Seated, from left: Vineland Public School District Superintendent Alfonso Llanos, Vineland Board of Education President Kimberly Codispoti, and RCSJ President Dr. Frederick Keating.

Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) and Vineland Public Schools (VPS) were joined by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, and the City of Vineland, to participate in the Celebrate Innovation in Education ceremony. At this special event, which took place at Vineland High School South (VHS) on February 21, came an announcement—the awarding of $148,000 to VPS as part of the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) Dual Enrollment Pilot Grant Initiative.

State and local government officials, administrators, educators, and business leaders along with RCSJ and VHS faculty, staff, and students were on hand for the celebration of the announcement.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am to be in my alma mater … What’s amazing to me is that Vineland High School continues to grow and improve,” said Michael Testa, state Senator, 1st Legislative District, New Jersey. “And, through partnerships with Rowan College of South Jersey and the vision of President Fred Keating, I can only imagine where this can go with this partnership and with this dual enrollment [initiative].

“We need to be dedicated to education,” added Testa, a Class of ’94 VHS graduate. “Our youth are our greatest commodity here in South Jersey and we need to make sure that they are afforded all of the opportunities so that they can not only survive, but can thrive.”

VHS, a local education agency (LEA), established a partnership with RCSJ and Rowan University, institutions of higher education (IHE), for this pilot initiative.

“This type of program allows students to choose a pathway and that pathway is very important because they get a taste of what college is about,” said Joe Sileo, director, Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. “They also can take that same pathway and go to a trade school or start a business of their own. They’ll get some type of business background along with a nice high school education and an associate degree. This is the type of thing we need to do in this community.”

The $148,000 grant, provided by the DOE, is a single-year initiative designed to enable high school students to take college-level courses, and earn both high school and college credits simultaneously. The funding will also help VPS initiate and increase dual enrollment/dual credit courses at VHS with an intention to ensure equitable access and participation for all under-resourced students—including those who are economically disadvantaged as well as multi-lingual learners—who are eligible for the program.

According to a press release, the DOE, in association with the Office of the Secretary for Higher Education, awarded a total of $500,000 in grants for the creation and expansion of high-quality dual enrollment programs in several school districts across the state as part of the New Jersey State Plan for Higher Education.

VPS was one of four school districts in the state—and the only one in South Jersey—selected to receive the funding.

“[The funding] represents an opportunity to break down the barriers and provide access to transformative educational experiences,” said Kimberly Codispoti, president, Vineland Board of Education. What sets this initiative apart is our commitment to equity and inclusiveness. We are not merely creating opportunities; we are ensuring that these opportunities are accessible to all eligible students.”

The Celebrate Innovation in Education ceremony was filled with good vibes.

The event offered VHS the chance to showcase a few of its amazing students including Denise Gonzalez, senior class president; Gabriela Cumba, senior class vice president; the VHS JROTC; the VHS Select Choir; and the reigning Mr. and Ms. Vineland, Anthony Gonzalez and Eve Ortiz. Even Rowdy Rooster made an appearance at this special program.

Speakers and attendees were excited about the endless opportunities this grant can provide for underrepresented students.

“It is such an honor to see that you’ve planted a seed here and you know the slogan of Vineland is ‘Where it’s always growing season.’ ” said Elizabeth Arthur, president, Vineland City Council. “This seed is going to grow, and we hope that the students who take advantage of this will [return] and give something back to the community.”

Alfonso Llanos, superintendent, Vineland Public Schools, added: “This grant is not just about financial support; it symbolizes our commitment to providing equitable access to education for all our students. We will cover tuition, textbooks, transportation costs and a translation of materials for those students making education even more accessible than ever.”

Llanos recognized the Vineland Board of Education for establishing an assertive grant writing department at VPS that helped them connect with several collaborators to enhance educational opportunities for its students. .

“At Vineland Public Schools, we believe that every child deserves an equal opportunity to succeed [and] to thrive irrespective of where they came from, their financial situation, their language barriers,” Llanos said.

“Thanks to the efforts of our many collaborators on the New Jersey Department of Education Dual Enrollment Pilot Grant Initiative, Vineland High School has become an RCSJ Collegiate High School,” said Jacqueline Roman-Alvarez, principal, Vineland High School South. “At VHS we are all very eager to see the benefits of this grant unfold.”

Two students, Xavien Phillips and Kellianne Burgess, proudly shared their positive experiences as current participates in RCSJ’s dual enrollment program.

“Humbly, I think Vineland High School will put this concept, Collegiate High School and transferrable academic pathways, on the map in the state of New Jersey,” said Keating.