Project Reconnect gives a second chance

For the 119 students enrolled, Project Reconnect, started in 2004 by St. John’s University School of Education professor Deborah Saldana, along with the Queens South Park District, has been the opportunity for a second chance at succeeding in school.

In its first year, Project Reconnect received a $1 million government grant from the U.S Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act to accept 100 sixteen to eighteen year olds who had not attended school in over a year and needed help obtaining their GEDs.

During the first year of the program, students study Math, English, History, Social Studies, Music, and Technology, as well as receiving counseling sessions in the South Queens Park Association building in Jamaica, Queens, on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, smoking, and gangs.

Counseling sessions are crucial to the students’ success because most New York City schools don’t offer adequate counseling services due to the overwhelming amount of students.

During the second year of the program, students receive follow-up from the staff, which consists of certified teachers and graduate students who receive a monthly stipend and full tuition.

As well as taking classes and going to counseling sessions, students visit colleges, attend a Job Fair, and learn useful skills such as job etiquette, filling out job applications, presenting themselves, and accepting criticism.

Students also learn about taxes, withholding, social security, loans, and other terms that can help them when they enter the employment field.

While the staff of Project Reconnect tries to motivate students to return to high school and eventually move on to college, many opt to take the GED exam instead.

Out of the 119 students enrolled, 28 now have jobs, 16 have passed the GED exam, 8 have gone back to high school, 4 have been accepted to either a college or a post-secondary school training program, 2 have unpaid internships, and more are planning to take the GED exam later this year.

Although Project Reconnect has seen success, in 2005 its funds from the government were decreased to $550,000, enabling only 55 students to be accepted into the program.

Along with Professor Saldana, who has been teaching at St. John’s University since 1994, Unseld Robinson, Project Reconnect’s Dean of Students, Deirdre Breslin, the Academic Director, Tesha Johnson, the Assistant Director, Joe Sciame, St. John’s Vice President of Community Relations, Jerrold Ross, School of Education Dean, and Jonas Bethea, Assistant Professor in the School of Education’s Counseling program, have all played a vital role in Project Reconnect’s success.