By Kara Kavensky
Indiana’s Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program is one of several important initiatives under the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). Commissioner Steve Braun led the 10-year anniversary ceremony in the north atrium of the Statehouse by welcoming special guest speakers Governor Eric Holcomb, Vincennes University President Chuck Johnson, Senator Dennis Kruse and JAG graduates Elijah Tribbett and Desiree Steinkamp. Sixty current JAG students, as well as JAG specialists, were also in attendance.
JAG is a national, non-profit organization which works to facilitate the success of students to overcome academic challenges by illuminating their paths toward graduation and beyond. The JAG program has proven to be one of the most cost-effective and successful state-level strategies for tackling high dropout rates, low academic performance, youth unemployment, and other critical issues related to at-risk youth. Participants actively engage in career exploration, goal setting and leadership development as they plan for their future and transition to post-secondary education and/or the labor market.
The Indiana JAG model is a comprehensive competency-based program focused on the academic attainment and development of essential skills needed to attach successfully to post-secondary education, advanced training and/or the labor market. Nationally, JAG is a proven model for successful engagement of high-risk youth and for combating the dropout crisis facing America.
Governor Mitch Daniels first welcomed the program to the Hoosier state, and then Governor Mike Pence broadened the JAG outreach and impact by doubling the state’s investment, thus establishing Indiana as the national leader among the 33 participating states nationwide. Today, Governor Holcomb embraces the efforts of this important statewide initiative by providing his own commitment to the program. At the ceremony, Commissioner Braun announced the appointment of Governor Holcomb to the National JAG Board, which was met with thunderous applause from those attending.
“The education and training provided through JAG Indiana prepares young Hoosiers for success after high school and opens doors to positive education, career, and personal outcomes that will benefit them for years to come,” said Governor Holcomb, who was impressed by the stories of the JAG students. “The perseverance and work ethic of these JAG students in attendance is a testament to the thousands of JAG students who came before them and serve as an inspiration to thousands more who will follow in their footsteps.”
The DWD-driven JAG Indiana program has received fervent support from the Commission for Higher Education, the Department of Education, Department of Corrections, Department of Child Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, and many corporate sponsors. Vincennes University and Ivy Tech Community College also serve as key partners of the JAG program.
“Vincennes University is proud of our partnership with JAG,” says VU President Chuck Johnson. “It is great to work with a program whose mission so closely aligns with ours and that cares about student success as much as we do.”
“Ivy Tech Community College is honored to have been a long-time partner with JAG. Our mission compliments well with that of JAG in assisting students to achieve focused educational outcomes that lead to high demand, well-paying jobs and careers,” shares Chris Lowery, Senior VP for Workforce Alignment. “JAG and Ivy Tech stand at the intersection between students and employers who are seeking well qualified employees.”
Students enrolled in JAG receive career preparation and life skills training while in school and one year of adult mentoring post-graduation to ensure their continued success. Students from across the state have all been uniquely impacted by the JAG program.
“JAG began with just 12 schools during the 2006-2007 school year and has grown to the largest affiliate in the national network with more than 110 programs statewide,” said Commissioner Braun. “JAG has impacted over 17,000 Indiana students and their families, achieving an impressive 94 percent graduation rate, with last year’s graduating class securing more than $21 million in scholarships to continue their studies.”
Sara Beth Meyers was one of theoriginal 12 JAG specialist instructors with Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis. She currently manages JAGRegion 5, which surrounds Indianapolis. “I love that I am making a difference. It is rewarding to wake up every day and know that I am positively impacting our future workforce,” states Meyers, who was a former Spanish teacher. “JAG offers the flexibility of engaging directly with students, thus creatinga personal impact. This was why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place and I have found a way to have this experience by becoming a JAG specialist.”
“Looking back, I cannot think of another organization more dedicated to helping facilitate the future dreams of students,” shares Desiree Steinkamp, JAG graduate of Seymour High School and currently attending Trine University. “JAG is making Indiana a better state, building a better nation, and impacting the world. Nowhere does the parable ‘For tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today’ apply more appropriately.”
“Doors have opened that I didn’t know could be opened,” said Pendleton Heights High School senior Kathryn Neely, who has been inspired by her JAG experience to pursue an education degree at IUPUI. “JAG made college a reality for me – more than just an idea – by encouraging me to participate in community service within the Life Skills class, which opened the door to me wanting to study special education.”
As the JAG program continues its tenure, it is only natural to impact younger siblings within families and friends, as the success stories of participants are told. Anderson High School senior Roy Thomas is one of those students who knew about JAG thanks to his older siblings who participated in the program. Thomas attended a national JAG meeting in Washington, D.C. and listened to a student speaker who inspired him to compete in the following year’s JAG Career Development Conference (CDC). This year’s CDC finals competition will be held in Indianapolis on March 17 at the IVY Tech Headquarters.
“As a result of seeing that student on stage, I competed the following year and I won the state, regional, and national competitions, and was one of the featured speakers in D.C. the following year,” states Thomas, who has been accepted at Ball State University and plans to major in animation.
“I am so blessed to oversee this tremendous program and I will do anything to see more students involved in JAG. We started with 12 pilot schools and have grown to over 90 schools offering 110 programs, and nearly 6000 students participating this year,” says Leslie Crist, Director of Youth Initiatives with Department of Workforce Development. She has overseen the JAG program since 2007. “JAG invests in the workforce of tomorrow and helps fill a much-needed workplace gap for Indiana employers.”
Terre Haute North High School JAG Specialist Audrey Harbison has worked with approximately 45 students every year over the last decade. She, like the other JAG Specialists, loves her job.
“I like that I get to work with the administrators in the school and with the students to help them figure out what they wish to do for a career using Indiana CareerExplorer,” states Harbison, referencing DWD’s online career planning system. “These are wonderful tools that are making a significant impact on this great program.”
Over the years, Vincennes University has expanded their involvement with JAG by developing a special college visit program. Each year, VU hosts 600-800 JAG students on their campuses each year. For many of these students, a visit to VU is their first time on a college campus.
The impact the JAG program has had on Indiana students is palpable. The graduation rate and success of these students may be measured by statistical data, but the intangible results are the most vital. These students are exposed to career options, given opportunities otherwise not available, and are encouraged to become tomorrow’s Hoosier leaders. The employability skills – confidence and interpersonal relationships – are created through Jobs for America’s Graduates and impact entire families and their future employers.
Commissioner Braun states, “Indiana’s JAG program set forth with a goal to make a difference in the personal and professional lives of young people, and a decade later our program has grown to become the nation’s leader. And while the program continues to blossom and grow number-wise, JAG is still in just 16% of Indiana’s schools. The opportunity here is endless, and we must do what it takes to build on this momentum to get in the majority of Indiana schools.”
Please visit http://www.in.gov/dwd/2799.htm for more information.
About Indiana Jobs for America’s Graduates (www.jagindiana.org)
JAG is a state-based, national non-profit organization dedicated to assisting students with barriers to success by helping them overcome academic challenges in a path towards graduation. Students are taught up to 88 competencies such as critical thinking, team leadership and effective communications skills that increase their employability skills. JAG Indiana is part of the JAG National network of 33 states and is funded through grants provided by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.