First Lady Teresa Parson says the Jobs for America’s Graduates-Missouri program is a win-win. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to help at-risk students unlock their full potential by graduating from high school and being successful in life.

Gov. Mike Parson, First Lady Teresa Parson, and JAG students

“It’s a win for the kids and it’s a win for our state. It’s a program that we are so dedicated to and believe in,” she tells Missourinet. “It’s an extremely important program, I think, especially to these young people. In all honestly, it does not take me promoting it because this program sells itself.”

When Executive Director Paul Kincaid shared the mission with the Parsons, they were sold.

“It was before he (Gov. Parson) was lieutenant governor, actually. We have carried it through,” the first lady says. “It just worked into the governor’s goals.”

Two of Gov. Parson’s main priorities have been workforce development and infrastructure. The Parsons serve as co-chairs of the Missouri organization’s Board of Directors.

Jobs for America’s Graduates, also known as JAG, is an in-school program focusing on career exploration, resume building, employability skills, team building and public speaking. It has a 98% graduation rate among its Missouri students.

“Remember, these are those at-risk students – at risk of not graduating when they go into the program. That is a very, very good percentage to have,” Mrs. Parson says. “It’s like they become a part of an organization of their own because everyone in that classroom has some issue or problem that they can relate to. It draws them close together. These young people get that extra help, they get that extra push and an opportunity to do and to better their lives. So many of them, that’s all they are wanting. They are looking for that escape. This program, I think, definitely does that for them.”

What is the most important thing she has learned from JAG-Missouri?

“These children seem to have challenges that they need to overcome because of something in their youth. The most important thing that I think that I have learned first, I’ve learned that these problems have names and they have faces. It is these kids. They are impressive young people that do want to escape and they want to show what they can do with their lives,” she says.

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.

The first lady says JAG is even more important during and after the pandemic.

“It’s probably more challenging for these JAG students than a normal young person because of the trauma, because of the things in their life that they’ve had to deal with and now going through a pandemic. These specialists – their goal during this time has been to make sure that their JAG students that they have in their classrooms are safe, which is sometimes another issue with the students that they don’t feel safe at home. The JAG specialists also had to make sure that there was food in the homes for these kids. They are amazing, amazing people. They, a lot of times, are surrogate parents to these kids. They are mentors to them. They are coaches,” she says.

After the students graduate from high school, the JAG specialists, who are teachers, check in every month for one year. Her question to the teachers is whether the students reach out or pick up the phone when they see the educators are calling.

“They do, which tells you right there the need that they have for somebody that really could mentor them or take care of them,” Mrs. Parson says.

This fall, more than 100 JAG programs will be in about 70 Missouri schools.

“My hope is just to continue to grow the program as much as we can because I don’t know any part of our state that could not benefit from this,” she says.

The first lady says she and the governor hope JAG will eventually make it into all of the state’s high schools.

The nonprofit provides half of the estimated annual cost for the in-school program and the school district picks up the rest of the tab.

To listen to the full interview with First Lady Teresa Parson, click below.

This is a four-part story series about Jobs for America’s Graduates-Missouri. Tomorrow’s story will feature JAG Specialist Holly Harmon and JAG student Nathaniel Schmitt of Aurora Public Schools.

Earlier story:


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