Lifting barriers and building bridges: An AZ city empowers its youth


  • Virginia G. Piper Trust
  • City of Tolleson


  1. Access to Career Path Development and Post-Secondary Opportunities
    • High school students lacked access to comprehensive career path development and exposure to post-secondary opportunities.
    • Limited real-life experiences and partnerships with employers hindered students’ understanding of career options and pathways.
  2. Barriers to Student Success
    • On average, participants faced eight barriers hindering their academic progress, including low academic performance, attendance challenges, homelessness, and personal or family barriers.
    • Overcoming these barriers required targeted support and resources tailored to each participant’s unique circumstances
  3. Need for Bridge Program for Elementary Students Transitioning to High School
    • There was a lack of support for elementary students transitioning to high school, leading to uncertainty and disengagement.
    • A bridge program was needed to keep students engaged in education, employment, and post-secondary education throughout high school graduation
  4. Need for Post High School Graduation Follow-Up Services
    • There was a gap in follow-up services for post-high school graduates, posing challenges to persistence and barrier removal.
    • Continued support and resources were necessary to ensure graduates’ successful transition into employment or post-secondary education.


  • Launch of JAG Works program to provide comprehensive career path development, exposure to real-life experiences, and partnerships with employers and post-secondary partners.
  • Establishment of partnerships with local organizations and businesses to offer internships, job shadowing opportunities, and career exploration workshops.
  • Implementation of a bridge program to support elementary students transitioning to high school, focusing on maintaining engagement and providing necessary resources.
  • Enhancement of post-high school graduation follow-up services to ensure persistence, barrier removal, and successful transition into employment or post-secondary education.


Access to Comprehensive Career Path Development

  • Solution: JAG Works program offered career exploration workshops, job shadowing opportunities, and partnerships with employers.

Barrier Removal

  • Solution: JAG Works provided tailored support and resources to address the eight barriers on average per participant, including academic support, counseling, and access to basic needs.

Bridge Program for Elementary Students

  • Solution: Implementation of the JAG Works bridge program supported elementary students transitioning to high school, focusing on engagement and providing resources for academic success.

Post-High School Graduation Follow-Up Services

  • Solution: The JAG program model ensured continued support and resources were offered to graduates to ensure successful transition into employment or post-secondary education.


Program Engagement

  • Reached 206 youth through JAG Works programming prior to August 2018.
  • Since 2018, JAG Works has served on average 50 students per year.
  • Currently: City of Tolleson JAG Works has 57 participants enrolled


  • Approximately 92% of youth served were minorities.
  • Nearly 68% were low income based on free or reduced lunch eligibility.
  • 45% had at least one parent that did not graduate from high school.

Academic Success

  • 93% graduation rate among program graduates.
  • 95% of graduates engaged in employment and/or post-secondary education.

Employment Outcomes

  • 41% of graduates were employed.
  • 47% of employed graduates were working full-time.

Post-Secondary Enrollment

  • 78% of graduates attending post-secondary education.

Student Success Stories

  • Martin: Pursued education at Georgetown University and is currently a Management Fellow with the City of Tempe’s City Manager Office.
  • Alexis: Followed career path to entrepreneurship and currently owns a successful photography business.
  • Brianna: Pursued Communications Degree and currently manages processes and workflow at a construction company.
  • Yaritzi: Pursuing Criminology and Criminal Justice Degree, works as Human Services Specialist for the City of Tolleson, and volunteers with Tolleson Community Coalition.


The City of Tolleson JAG Works program successfully addressed the challenges of providing comprehensive career development, removing barriers to academic success, implementing a bridge program for transitioning elementary students, and offering post-high school graduation follow-up services. Through strategic partnerships and tailored support, the program continues to empower youth to pursue their academic and career goals, resulting in tangible outcomes and individual success stories. Moving forward, the program serves as a model for communities seeking to support youth in accessing education, employment, and post-secondary opportunities.