New Developments Include High-Tech Scanners Providing Various Types of Counseling

By Bill Bonvie
Staff Writer

LITTLE EGG HARBOR—Two new initiatives designed to provide Pinelands Regional students with cellphone-accessible support and guidance resources and remedial academic help, as well as a couple of ‘coming attractions’ aimed at helping them prepare for future vocational occupations or careers in the military were described by Superintendent Dr. Melissa McCooley during a relatively brief meeting of the Pinelands Regional Board of Education on Feb. 27.


For one thing, McCooley announced that a substantial number of QR (quick response) code scanners have now been put up in classrooms and corridors of both the high school and junior high for students seeking help with mental health concerns, drug and alcohol counseling or other types of support.


Approximately 100 such scanners have been placed at strategic locations around both schools, Principal Troy Henderson subsequently told the Pine Barrens Tribune.


The scanners, created by Program Director and Family Therapist Karen Kenney and her team with the help of School-Based Youth Services, a state grant-funded program, are making an “array of services” available to students simply by scanning the particular codes connected to those resources, McCooley noted.


Next to the QR code is a message about the purpose of the scanner, which reads: “Do you need to relieve stress? Do you need to focus and recharge?” It then list a series of resources that can be accessed via the scanner, such as talk or text hotlines, yoga, meditation, stress relief and focused breathing, advising students to “scan any time for resources” and to “reach out to your guidance counselor for more,” with the names of various counselors listed on the side. At the bottom is the logo “Here2help.”


Once a student has used the QR function, he or she is then offered a number of options, ranging from videos on ways to relieve stress to crisis hotlines for various situations.


The scanner program is one that the superintendent described as “something quick and easy and up with the current technology” in a district whose students only a couple years ago had to endure a number of hardships.


Another recent innovation, the Bridge Program, which was described by McCooley as “a way for students who are falling behind during the first two marking periods to make sure that their year is still successful,” is now being attended by some 50 of 62 high-school students who were invited to participate, she noted in congratulating the team responsible for developing it.


The program grew out of the policy that requires students taking full-year courses to pass one of the first two marking periods and one of the last two in order to gain credit for the course, according to a synopsis emailed to this newspaper by Pinelands Regional High Assistant Principal Kelli Green.


It describes the Bridge Program as a “rigorous academic program,” providing current students who failed both marking periods “an opportunity to make up some or all required graduation credits” by having them stay after school two or four days per week for six weeks “to revisit the learning standards in art, physical education, English language arts, math, or social studies.” Participants, it notes, are given a “second lunch” and transportation home on the 4 p.m. bus.


Teachers in the Bridge Program, according to the description, use “the project-based learning model to engage students differently than with a typical school lesson.” This involves such projects as “developing presidential campaigns for historical and literary figures, designing health and nutrition plans, and creating small cities,” with “guest speakers and local experts invited to help students discover practical solutions to real world questions.”


At the conclusion of the program, all students will present their projects to a scoring panel, with successful ones enjoying improved grades that meet the criteria for the second marking period and also being “responsible for passing courses for the remainder of the school year.”


In addition, Pinelands students thinking about joining the military or wishing to acquire on-the-job training for life after graduation are now being given an opportunity to sign up for two elective programs that the administration is planning to make available in September, McCooley reported.


Those in the first category will now be able to take part in Southern Regional High School’s ROTC program, the cost of which Pinelands is now arranging to share, and which will be open to high-school students in any grade. Students who opt to participate will spend the last periods of the day at the Southern Regional campus in Manahawkin, McCooley said.


“We’re super-excited about that,” she added.


Also scheduled to begin during the 2023-24 school year, she reported, will be an apprenticeship program for seniors who would like to develop vocational skills by going out and working in the community, an opportunity that will be in addition to the career training already offered by the district through the JAG (Jobs for America) program.


Students now in their junior year can sign up for that program, which will also begin in September, through the end of the current term, the superintendent told this newspaper, describing it as an opportunity for them to train to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, or any other occupation in which they might wish to gain practical experience while still in school.

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