Jobs for America’s Graduates is a national organization helping disadvantaged students graduate from high school and confidently transition to the next phase of their life. The nonprofit often referred to as JAG, has an impressive 98% graduation rate among its Missouri students.
By achieving high graduation rates, JAG-Missouri also helps to end the cycle of what high school dropouts are known for: higher rates of unemployment, public assistance, and incarceration, and even greater risks of poor health.
Paul Kincaid has been the executive director of the Missouri chapter since 2014. He tells Missourinet that JAG helps students think about what could be, instead of what is.
“The students we are working with in JAG have great potential but they have also got a lot of challenges – the most notable and most common are pretty difficult poverty, pretty challenging home life, and usually some trauma in their lives somewhere along the way,” he says. “A lot of JAG students are really trying to get to Friday. Then they are trying to get through the weekend and get to Monday. If they can get to Wednesday, that’s good. If they can get to another Friday and through another week, that is good. They are really in survival mode because of the situation they are in. What JAG tries to do is have them pause, take a half step back and look at their life and look at their future in a different kind of way.”
The JAG specialist gets to know the students on a personal level to help the kids overcome some of the challenges they have. The in-school program also focuses on career exploration, resume building, employability skills, and interpersonal skills.
“It teaches them how to interact with people, how to introduce themselves. They have to work in teams so they get to know each other and figure out how to be a leader and also how to be a follower,” says Kincaid. “We also spend a lot of time on public speaking – communication. JAG students are known for their ability to communicate once they come out of the JAG program. It’s just like an athlete or a musician – you get better when you practice. Those are really the skills, the foundation that you need, whether you go as an entrepreneur, the military, a CEO, or whatever you go into – those are the skills you are going to need to be successful and to advance.”
Kincaid says JAG-Missouri broadens the horizons of students and gives them experiences they would not normally have. The learning often comes in the form of field trips to different businesses, guest speakers, and special events. These efforts motivate the kids to keep up with their school work.
“For new schools, what I usually hear early in the fall is, ‘We thought this program would work but we didn’t think it would work this fast.’ The three things they say are they see better attendance; they see improved grades, and they see fewer disciplinary problems,” says Kincaid. That’s a pretty good combination.”
Nationally, about 50% of JAG students go straight into the military or workforce. Another 40% end up attending a two-year community college or a vocational school. Roughly 5% attend a four-year university.
After the students graduate from high school, JAG is not over with. The JAG specialists pick up the phone and call them every month for one year.
“Usually that’s just touching base and making sure that they are doing okay and accomplishing their goals. Sometimes we’ll visit with the employer to make sure that the JAG student is doing well as an employee and see if there’s anything we need to do with our curriculum to improve it.”
The organization has been around for about 40 years. In Missouri, JAG has seen significant growth over the past few years.
In 2014-15, six programs could be found in six Missouri schools – four in the Bootheel and two in St. Louis. This fall, more than 100 programs will be in about 70 Missouri schools.
“We’re really growing because of word of mouth. We’ll have an administrator who is at a JAG school and they’ll take a new position at a non-JAG school. The first thing they’ll want to do is bring JAG. That really speaks well for the program that administrators are trying to bring JAG to their new situation because they have seen it work. That makes you feel pretty good,” says Kincaid.
The nonprofit provides half of the estimated annual cost for the in-school program and the school district picks up the rest.
Kincaid says since 2014, an estimated 15,000 Missouri students have been through JAG.
To listen to the full interview with Paul Kincaid, click below.
This is a four-part story series about Jobs for America’s Graduates-Missouri. Tomorrow’s story will feature Missouri First Lady Teresa Parson talking about why she and Gov. Mike Parson have chosen to serve as co-chairs of the organization’s Board of Directors.
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