For immediate release: January 31, 2022

    Media Contact: Lori Perlow, 856-701-3170, communications@nresc.org


    In this photo: Ascend Academy student Zyonna Potts (right) working on an assignment with the support of teacher Brett Carrol (left). 

    WAYNE, NJ – Earlier in the pandemic, when schools were shifting between in-person and online learning, a population of older high school students was faced with real world decisions such as staying home to care for younger siblings or their own babies, working to earn critical dollars for their families or attending school. In Passaic City, where 99.9% of the students are economically disadvantaged, many students chose family and survival over their education.

    As administrators from Passaic City Schools and the Northern Region Educational Services Commission reviewed data regarding the number of students who hadn’t returned to school this year, the numbers were alarming and they immediately began to brainstorm a solution to re-engage this population of students. The two districts worked diligently in the fall months to develop a program to bring students back into an educational setting to complete their high school education without sacrificing the critical needs of their families.  

    On January 18, 2022, Ascend Academy, an educational collaborative between the Passaic City School District and the Northern Regional Education Services Commission, opened at the current site of HOPE Academy located in Passaic.  Ascend Academy is open to students after regular school hours to provide additional flexibility for the under-credited students who are still forced to juggle work and family obligations. 

    Zyonna Potts of Passaic City, pictured above, is one of the first students accepted into Ascend Academy. “Making the decision to be part of the Ascend program gave me a new sense of empowerment to take control of my future. It's provided me with the right resources and influence to invest in myself,” stated Potts.

    “Working together to offer a program for students with the most extenuating circumstances is among the highest priorities of both districts. Many of the students we will serve at Ascend Academy have endured hardships such as losing parents to COVID or being forced to choose employment over their own education,” stated Dr. Nicholas Vancheri, superintendent of Northern Region Educational Services Commission.

    More than 100 students from Passaic City will have the chance to fulfill state-mandated requirements to graduate from high school by taking classes from 4:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. in a more accommodating setting. Ascend Academy students must be recommended by a school counselor to ensure they meet entrance criteria for this unique program. Students will participate in a hybrid learning environment providing flexibility to attend classes in person or online for added convenience. The program will include many of the traditional support services that students would have access to during the school day such as certified teachers, a school counselor and a social worker. All students will work toward completing the New Jersey Department of Education’s graduation requirements.

    “From a social emotional lens, we are meeting students where they are in their learning,” stated Sandra Montañez-Diodonet, superintendent of Passaic Schools. “The Board is thrilled to support students who, as a result of circumstance, need an alternative path to a high school diploma,” said Christina Shratz, president of the Passaic Schools’ board of education.

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    About Northern Regional Educational Services Commission (NRESC)

    The Northern Regional Educational Services Commission (NRESC) is a non-profit, state-approved public school district that provides educational, business, technology, and transportation services to partner school districts throughout the northern region of New Jersey. The NRESC serves more than 80 entities in seven counties.

    The NRESC also operates alternative schools including the Skylands School for the Exceptional and Hope Academy, an alternative high school. NRESC also operates the Second Home Day Habilitation Center for adults with special needs.