JAG Program Awarded and Expanding
After more than three decades of operation, the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program has proven to be one of the most successful state-level strategies for tackling high school dropout rates, low academic performance, youth unemployment, and other barriers for at-risk youth. Program participants actively engage in career exploration, leadership, and goal setting as they plan for their future and transition into post-secondary education, military service, and/or employment. In Marion County, EmployIndy administers JAG for IPS and other local high schools.
The JAG 5 of 5 Award is the “gold standard” for JAG programs throughout the nation. To earn it, the local program must have at least a 90% graduation rate; 80% positive outcome rate; 60% job placement rate; 60% full-time job rate; and an 80% full-time placement rate. In Marion County, 95% of JAG students graduated from high school for the 2017-2018 school year.
In July, both the state and Marion County were given the JAG 5 of 5 Award for the fourth consecutive year. Additionally, six JAG Specialists received the award, two of which were also recognized on a national level as Outstanding Specialists. Although these awards are coveted, it is not the plaque that drives the specialists to success – it is the lives they impact each and every day.
Nearly all the students who enter the JAG program have barriers to overcome and need an extra push to establish a vision for a successful future. In Marion County, only 80% of public school students graduate high school to move onto further education or join the workforce. This dream pushed DaWit, a senior at George Washington High School, to join JAG because of his desire to gain necessary and valuable skills for his future, as well as have the opportunity for career exploration.
DaWit’s JAG Specialist, Charmaine Wardell, saw his motivation and helped him chase his dreams. “She’s the good type of nosy,” DaWit says of Charmaine. “She picks up on what you want to do and why – then she helps you get there.” Charmaine learned that he always hoped to be a public servant, which is when Captain Kevin Givens of the Indianapolis Fire Department entered the picture. When Captain Givens came to speak to the JAG participants this spring, Charmaine encouraged DaWit to network with him and ask about an opportunity to intern at his fire station.
This connection led to DaWit’s seven-month internship at Station 31. His internship confirmed that becoming a firefighter was what he wants to do with his future. “These people are family,” he said. “They talk openly with one another and are always there for each other and that’s what I want.” DaWit learned that there is some required education to be a successful firefighter, starting with becoming a paramedic and earning his Fire Science degree. In the fall of 2018, he will be taking these steps by attending Indiana State University, making him the first person in his family to attend college. DaWit is also interested in studying Unmanned Systems and Aeronautical Engineering. DaWit’s dream is to work at the Indianapolis Fire Department while also starting his own business of fixing planes and test flying them.
To guide more young adults like DaWit, JAG will be adding four programs for the 2018-2019 school year, for a total of 18 programs in 14 schools throughout the Indianapolis area. “We’ve had a lot of excitement over the JAG program in the past few years,” says Erika Cheney, EmployIndy’s Director of In-School Youth. “Whenever we are in the media, we always have individuals reaching out to us asking more about the program and how we can expand into their schools.” In the 2018-2019 school year, JAG will be expanding into Warren Central High School, Southport High School, Shortridge High School, and Crispus Attucks High School. JAG is instrumental in providing schools the extra support needed to help improve student’s academic and future career success.
Aside from growing JAG in Marion County, EmployIndy has been partnering with IPS to encourage work-readiness preparation and career exploration. In June of 2017, EmployIndy and IPS were awarded a grant from EWIN (Education Workforce Innovation Network) and CELL/UIndy (Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis). With these funds, EmployIndy and IPS studied other work-based learning continuums taking place throughout the United States. Representatives from each organization researched and visited Academies of Nashville, P-TECH in New York, and Denver Public Schools CareerConnect.
The knowledge gained from these visits led to the establishment of the Health Sciences Academy launched at Crispus Attucks for the 2017-2018 school year. EmployIndy had staff members on various committees focused on employer engagement, work-readiness, and college and career prep. Throughout the year, St. Vincent, Senior1Care, and Trilogy Health Services were the top health industry employers involved. These employers, along with EmployIndy staff, participated in mock interviews during the student’s College and Career Prep class.
To further improve career readiness and exploration, EmployIndy hosted Opportunity Days at each of the WorkOne Indy locations in February of 2018. The Opportunity Days consisted of 160 students attending employability skills and financial literacy workshops. These student field trips were found to be so successful and informational that they will continue to take place throughout the 2018-2019 school year.
Partnering with organizations throughout Marion County, EmployIndy is working to grow the future of the workforce by providing various funding strategies, techniques, and implementing a strategic plan focused on supplying young adults with opportunities for work-readiness and preparation for a future of sustainable employment in good and promising jobs.