For the first time, a vocational high school lab inside the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center in Newark is offering children who have had encounters with the juvenile justice system a chance to earn degrees in the construction industry.

Sojourn High School principal Rodney Jenkins said the lab has been in existence for three years, offering students a vocational unit called C-Tech, which gives them certificates in copper wiring and telecommunications.

This, however, is the first year the lab is offering the constructional simulation unit. Jenkins said the simulator has controls and gadgets that a student has to master over the course of a certain time frame. Once they complete the program, the teens receive a certificate saying they've mastered a simulator unit for running a forklift, a backhoe or a bulldozer.

With that knowledge, these teens have more of a chance getting a job using those skills, said Jenkins.

Four teens at the detention center are taking part in the construction simulation program.

Jenkins said each program needs to have 40 to 45 hours. So if the teens train for two hours a day, they can most likely receive their certificates within five to six weeks.

He added that these teens need more than just a high school diploma or a GED. They need an option to not go back to their old ways on the streets, which landed them in the detention center in the first place.

"So I wanted to give them training in something that would be meaningful, something they can keep for the rest of their lives, and something that they can actually go out and be a benefit to society, and themselves, their community and family," said Jenkins.

He said his goal was to find a training or a certification that can be done inside the detention center that would give these teens an opportunity to go to other resources once they are released. Jenkins said if the teens finish his course, the county will help them in getting them their H-Vac2 certification so they can get a job.

Any New Jersey company that needs a construction person and doesn't mind having a youth who once got in trouble but has reformed himself or herself can contact the principal at 973-484-4765. A company can also reach out to The Essex Regional Educational Service Commission at 973-405-6262.

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