The Jobs for America’s Graduates class — JAG for short — at MacArthur High School had no problem, once they settled on those items for their fundraiser, and they raised $150. The money was to buy “JAG swag”: shirts identifying them as members of the JAG class.
“It’s for kids who have barriers, academic or personality or family at home,” said junior Lanyia Cooper. “It’s to get them on track and help them plan. It’s kind of like a family. We’re encouraging each other and helping each other out.”
Their teacher, Luca Ciccolini, said the program lasts three years: the students’ junior and senior years of high school and a year after graduation as they pursue higher education or career training. This is the first year at MacArthur, and several of the students are seniors, so they’re squeezing two years into one.
Illinois doesn’t have a JAG system, so MacArthur is piggybacking onto Iowa’s program, Ciccolini said. The goal is to help kids graduate and find a career path, then help them to continue to encourage and help each other, even after they graduate and go their separate ways.
It’s an actual class, not an extracurricular activity, though they do plenty of projects outside of class time. They make field trips to area businesses to explore career options, and they work on community service projects. They devote class time to tutoring and academic assistance for each other, and JAG members get their grades once a week, so they won’t get behind before they correct deficiencies, Ciccolini said.
He’s available for advice and help, but one of the main ideas behind JAG is to make students self-reliant.
“We build skills,” said Amaury Cook, a senior. “We went to a trust course (at Rock Springs Center) to help us come together as a team and figure out different ways to work together.”
Junior Dane Barrett said being in the group helps him overcome a tendency to lack motivation because the others fill in the gap if he slacks off.
“It’s personalized,” he said. “Overcoming individual barriers and finding different ways to come up with different solutions for different problems.”
They don’t have an overall group goal so much as goals for each member of the class, Ciccolini said. However, graduation and making a solid plan for after high school are important.
“It’s not a traditional class,” he said. “It’s not really a class at all. It’s a three-year program. For the juniors, they’ll have two years, and I follow them one year out. I’ll contact them once a month to make sure they’re staying on their path and getting whatever they need. I facilitate that, to help that transition from having their hand held for four years in high school to basically being on their own and making their own decisions and feeling the consequences to whatever decisions they make.”