Students learned about virtual reality and use their skills to develop programs in the metaverse as part of a summer youth employment program

Students get paid to learn, work in the metaverse this summer

Students gathered to learn about virtual reality and use their skills to develop programs as part of Newark, N.J.'s summer youth employment program

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Dante Hernandez, a rising ninth grader at Technology 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 teens find jobs in retail or restaurants, Hernandez and 50 other Newark students are spending their vacation from school 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 new knowledge to the test. 

“We enter a virtual building and everything’s there for us. We just start learning,” Hernandez said. “This kind of opened our eyes more to see, like, what the metaverse has in store for us in the future.”

This summer, roughly 3,000 Newark students between the ages of 14 to 24 are working in career and technical education-related jobs as part of Newark’s summer youth employment program. The city places and pays students each year in a variety of summer jobs and internships where they get hands-on experience that provides them the skills to reach future career goals.

The push to provide more career and technical education has grown over the years, especially as the pandemic has forced schools to search for new ways to engage students who have disconnected from learning. State and local leaders have also noted the importance of having more of these programs for high school students looking for opportunities after graduation.

According to the New Jersey Department of Education, approximately 77,000 high school students in the state participate in career and technical education pathways. Experts say students in these pathways have a 10% higher high school graduation rate than those who are not. 

State and local officials are also pushing for more opportunities for students. 

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy awarded school districts and county colleges a second round of grant funding through the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act. The grants will fund improvements and enhancements of career and technical education programs in county vocational-technical school districts and county colleges throughout New Jersey. 

This year, Newark’s summer program launched its virtual reality track with 51 students who had little to no experience in virtual reality. 

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