Shoprite @ school

By Kathryn Coulibaly 

Jessica DiMino and Stacey Villa, special education teachers at Old Bridge High School, are known as the “ShopRite ladies” around Old Bridge High School. That’s because for many years, they have run a program, in conjunction with Wakefern Food Corporation’s ShopRite, that provides essential life and career skills to their students.  

“The ShopRite at Schools program is really hands-on and practical,” says DiMino. “Our students are literally working in a functioning grocery store. It just so happens to be in their high school.”  

The grocery store is adjacent to the Learning Lab, and it looks exactly like a small corner store. There are shelves lined with students’ and staff favorites such as macaroni and cheese, Pop-Tarts, chips, drinks and so much more.  

With a smile on their faces, students unload the ShopRite delivery truck and organize the products.

“The students have input into what we order to stock the shelves,” Villa says. “They know what their classmates like, and they see what is most often purchased. That helps us meet our customers’ needs.”  

What students purchase sometimes leads to nicknames given them by the Old Bridge ShopRite staff.  

“I don’t always know all the students’ names who use the store,” Villa says. “So I call them by what they purchase, such as ‘apple juice’ or ‘Fruity Pebbles.’ It’s a way for us to connect with students outside our program in a light-hearted way.”  

Old Bridge High School staff also use the mini-ShopRite. They can find cans of vegetables or soup on the shelves, in case they need a last-minute item to make dinner or forgot to pack a lunch.  

DiMino and Villa also have added a coffee bar. The students are trained to act as baristas. After school, when the cafeteria is closed, student workers are able to heat up food for their classmates who stay after school for activities or sports.  

While there are several other in-school ShopRites in the region, Wakefern Food Corporation is no longer taking on new school partnerships. Wakefern has kept the Old Bridge program in place, as well as the other remaining programs around the state.  

Students are proud to work in their own ShopRite, tackling tasks such as stocking shelves, working the register and creating signage.

Practicing real-world skills 

The ability to practice real-world skills in a school environment is so important for students. Villa is the transition planning liaison for the students. DiMino is the ShopRite liaison and works with Wakefern to order supplies, schedule deliveries and handle billing.  

“This is a physically taxing job,” DiMino says. “Students have to unload the truck, stock the shelves, break down boxes, and stand at the register or at the coffee bar to serve customers. Students have to interact socially with their customers as well as complete the transaction.” 

Old Bridge’s program has been operating for seven years. Currently, nine students participate in the program, and they earn money for their work outside of the school day. They are paid $15.13 an hour, New Jersey’s minimum wage, when they work after school.  

“The students love working in the store, and they like making money,” Villa says. “This gives us a chance to talk about paychecks, how to check that they’re accurate, how to open an account and pay taxes.”  

Students learn life, career and social skills through the program.

The students, who range in age from 17 to 21, join the program based on teacher recommendation, although DiMino and Villa also keep an eye out for students who would benefit. Most students self-select and approach the ShopRite ladies about joining the program.  

In addition to on-the-clock skills, DiMino and Villa have also had an opportunity to teach students about “breakroom etiquette.” This includes time management for students who struggle to eat their meals before their break is over, cellphone etiquette, as well as appropriate conversations with co-workers.  

All of these skills help make it easier for students to be hired by employers after they leave the program—and more likely that they will retain those jobs.  

DiMino and Villa are always looking for new opportunities for their students. Since grocery stores need signage and promotion, some of their students have been working on Canva, a graphic design platform, to create business cards, posters and other signs for the store. They also have begun a laminating business and water delivery service throughout the building.  

“This program has really given a lot of our students a higher profile in the school community,” DiMino says. “They flew under the radar before, but now, wearing their aprons and working in the store is getting them recognized and appreciated.”  

For DiMino and Villa, being ShopRite ladies is a labor of love, and one that benefits all the students in the Old Bridge High School community, not just those who work in the store.  

“This program has such an impact on our students and on the morale of the entire school community,” Villa says. “We’re really proud of it and proud of our students.” 

Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of the NJEA Review and provides content and support to She can be reached at