Great Bend High School student Cierra Wood is glad she didn’t listen to friends who thought the new JAG class would be “boring” and “stupid.”
“I was told last year that it was just a study hall but boy was (that) wrong,” the GBHS junior said. She trusted her instincts and enrolled in the Jobs for America’s Graduates class. Not only has JAG given her confidence and a reason to study, it is also leading to an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., after Thanksgiving.
Wood attended the JAG-K Leadership Development Conference in Salina and placed first in a public speaking competition, which qualified her for the trip to the JAG National Student Leadership Academy.
The school board first heard about Wood’s success last month when JAG Specialist Jennifer Hopkins spoke at its monthly luncheon meeting, hosted by the high school. Board members asked if Wood could attend a regular board meeting so they could congratulate her in person.
The board also voted Monday to explore opportunities for expanding the program here.
Headed to D.C.
Wood was one of 2,500 JAG-K students who had the opportunity to enter the public speaking competition, said Brad Lingafelter, the regional director for the program. “You should be very proud of her.”
Wood said she didn’t have a lot of confidence before getting involved with JAG, but now she knows that she can go to college and beyond in the future.
“This program JAG has done a lot for me. Last year I struggled a lot with keeping my grades up. I’m getting better slowly, but last year was like climbing a tree that was going to be cut down,” Wood said. “Everyone at Great Bend High School should have an opportunity to be a part of it. I think it’s a very good program and I’m very thankful. It’s an honor to represent Great Bend and Kansas.”
Asked what she is most looking forward to on her trip, Wood said “meeting new people” is tops on her list. It will also be her first time to ride in an airplane and she will get to see the national monuments.
At Salina, students were asked to write about how JAG has given them the power to control their futures.
“We were supposed to write from the heart and that’s what I did,” Wood said.
GBHS JAG-K President Yamile Hernandez also spoke to the board on Monday. She said Hopkins has gotten more students thinking about going on to college after high school. “She’s changed a lot of minds.”
Expansion of JAG-K
Hopkins said she would like to see the program expanded. JAG is intended to help students graduate and then pursue postsecondary education. Students attend job fairs and visit colleges. She works with students in grades 10-12, but would like to see the program split into grades 9-10 and 11-12. That way she can focus on preparing the older students for postsecondary education and a second JAG sponsor can focus on more immediate skills for younger students. Lingafelter said the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) partners with the Kansas State Department of Education. DCF provides 90 percent of the funding at this time, so a $65,000 program costs a school district about $6,500 a year. DCF wants to add 16 more JAG programs in the next year, and may do that again the following year, he said. So, if Great Bend is interested it has a good chance to getting a second specialist in the next year or two, although there will be competition for the spots, he said.
A grant allowed Great Bend to add the Jobs for America’s Graduates program this year. Sophomores, juniors and seniors may take JAG as an elective course if they meet at least five criteria. Hopkins said her 38 students each meet eight of the criteria, on average. The criteria are considered barriers to future success, which may include poor attendance or grades, or a parent who didn’t go to college or who didn’t finish high school. The range is wide enough that most students could qualify, she said.
She works with her students one-on-one as much as possible, including before and after school. They do team-building activities to learn personal responsibility and deal with social and emotional issues. They also work on academic remediation.
In the second nine weeks Hopkins plans to help her students identify things they want to do after they graduate from GBHS. “No one path fits all,” she noted.
Hopkins also focuses on attendance. She said most of her students have jobs and most of the jobs are in the fast food industry. Some work until midnight or 1 a.m. and then don’t make it to school in the morning, she said.
“We’ve got to find ways to work with the businesses in the community to do what’s best for the students,” she said.
JAG students who are doing well in school can go on monthly field trips. In September they went to Kingman County High School in Greensburg for a career information fair hosted by Amerigroup Kansas. In October some students visited the Fort Hays State University campus and this month they attended an interactive college/military/career fair hosted by ESSDACK (Education Services and Staff Development Association of Central Kansas) at Hutchinson. In February they will tour the Capitol at Topeka and in March they will compete in a JAG-K event at Seward County Community College. Competition will include mock interviews. There will be a leadership development conference at Emporia State University in April.
After high school, Hopkins will continue to be available as a resource to JAG students for one year.