A panel of speakers gathered in the auditorium at The Academy at Shawnee on Thursday, November 12, to announce a multi-agency collaborative to ensure higher graduation rates. A panel of speakers including (left to right) Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer; Matt Koprowski,
JKG Graduate and Assembler at Louisville Assembly Plant; Brian Cleveland, JKG Specialist, Jefferson High School; Larry Caruso, Executive Director, Jobs for Kentucky’s Graduates; Venita Benboe, Principal at The Academy at Shawnee; Janelle Duray JAG Vice President; and, Sean Montgomery, Integrity Staffing; gathered to introduce a new program aimed at increased graduation rates and workplace ready skills at The Academy at Shawnee.
One of the first lessons in a new class at The Academy @ Shawnee, one the district hopes will prevent at-risk students from dropping out of school, was fairly simple: how to greet someone in a business setting.
No fist bumps. No high fives. No handshakes resembling a "cold, wet fish," said Brian Cleveland, who is the JAG Specialist at Jeffersonville High School. He demonstrated what a Jobs for America's Graduates, or "JAG," class would look like for a group of about 40 Shawnee students during the November 12 news conference.
Shawnee is the most recent Kentucky high school to offer a JAG class, which teaches job and life skills and offers counseling services to students facing multiple barriers to learning — which is nearly every Shawnee student hand-picked for the class, said Larry Caruso, executive director of Jobs for Kentucky's Graduates, a state affiliate of the national Jobs for America's Graduates.
The list of barriers faced by students is extensive: falling behind in school, coming from single-parent households, drug or alcohol problems experienced by themselves or family members, incarceration.
Although seven high schools in the state offered JAG classes last school year, Shawnee is the first in Jefferson County Public Schools to participate in the program. The class was made possible by a $30,000 gift from Integrity Staffing Solutions and $5,000 from GE. The class at Shawnee officially began this fall semester.
"At Integrity Staffing, we are seeking individuals who come to the interview with the skills that are in high demand by our clients," said Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Integrity Staffing, Todd Bavol. "We have found that the skills students learn in Jobs for America's
Graduates are precisely the skills our clients are seeking. We are delighted to expand our partnership with JAG through this grant to Shawnee Academy in order to bring Jobs for Kentucky's Graduates to Louisville. Partnerships like these help us drive our mission of generating opportunities for people to exceed their own expectations and to advance careers and communities."
The JAG program has been "phenomenally successful" at other Kentucky high schools, Caruso said, with students involved in the program experiencing a 97 percent graduation rate in 2014.
"It builds hope for kids who don't have hope," he said. "It builds self-esteem in kids who come into the program without self-esteem. It provides kids with support where they may not have support at home, and … kids for the first time get to see that there's possibilities for them."
Though it has historically struggled with dropout rates, The Academy @ Shawnee has reduced dropout rates by about 7 percentage points since 2008, according to JCPS data. Principal Venita Benboe attributed the gains to support services, such as mentoring and mental health counseling, available to students. Those programs have been around a while, she said, but the school focused on strengthening them in recent years with additional staff and other resources.
Last year, about 3 percent of Shawnee students dropped out.
Still, the highest dropout rates in JCPS last year were experienced by Iroquois High School and Valley High School, at 5.6 and 4.7 percent, respectively. Southern High School's dropout rate was also slightly higher than Shawnee's last year.
Caruso said there are no plans at the moment to start JAG programs at those schools, but "I am hopeful once the district sees how successful the program is at Shawnee, they'll be looking to implement it at other schools."
About Jobs for America's Graduates
Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG), is a non-profit youth development program committed to helping America's most at-risk kids excel in high schools, prepare for success in college, and embark on a rewarding career. Since its inception in 1980, JAG has served over 1 million at-risk kids, and is currently serving over 47,000 students in 32 states. JAG students have a graduation rate of over 90 percent, and approximately 80 percent of those graduates go on to postsecondary education, military service and/or full-time employment.
About Integrity Staffing Solutions
Since its launch in 1997, Integrity Staffing Solutions has been committed to generating opportunities for its associates to exceed their own expectations by supplying the skills that advance future fulfillment. The company specializes in temporary and direct-hire employment and customized staffing models that facilitate the growth of careers, communities and companies. A true engine of opportunity, Integrity is based on the philosophy that its clients succeed only when its associates do.