Emily Young says she was running around with the wrong crowd at the start of her senior year in high school. She was also struggling with severe depression and anxiety. School was not exactly a priority.
“I definitely didn’t see the point in going to school or that there was a future after graduation or anything like that. I really just didn’t see there being a life for me,” Young says.
Brandon Johnson, her teacher at Hillcrest Education Center in southern Missouri’s Lebanon, is also known as “coach”. He twisted her arm to join his JAG class. So did her principal at the time – Dr. Kati O’Quinn.
“Coach and Kati definitely pushed me to join JAG and opened up opportunities about what the future could be for me. It’s definitely pushed me to show up for school, get better grades, and actually participate,” says Young.
JAG stands for Jobs for America’s Graduates. The nonprofit organization helps at-risk youth graduate from high school and be productive members of society, whether that is by getting a job, joining the military or going to college. It has chapters across the country, including in Missouri.
The in-school program focuses on things like trauma-informed care, helping students to find a career path, personal development, resume building, teamwork, and public speaking.
Most of Missouri’s JAG students come from severe poverty, a difficult home or they have some trauma in their lives.
Young grew up in a turbulent home. Her mother went to prison when Young was nine years old. She then went to live with her father. Her father had a drinking problem. Her parents reunited and then split up again. Young’s grandma ended up caring for her.
She was the perfect candidate for JAG.
“There was just a spark in her,” says Johnson. “It was a little covered up and I felt like that if we could ever clear away the fog, that she would really be able to grow and be successful during school and after graduation. At first, it was a little touch-and-go. But since she’s been in the JAG class, she’s definitely become more focused. She definitely has learned to control her emotions a little bit more. When she came to us, she was already extremely outspoken, extremely driven. She just needed a little guidance and a little support to overcome some of those trauma issues from her past.”
She took first place in JAG’s statewide job interview competition and second place in JAG’s t-shirt design contest.
“I didn’t really prepare a whole lot for the interview panel just because I have a way with people – it was natural for me,” says Young.
“I honestly knew that she definitely had the potential. I see a lot of students every day that have a lot of potential but are scared to take the step and go forward and chase after something. She’s actually taken a step and has started chasing,” says Johnson. “I knew she would do well. When she made it through the first phase of employability skills and actually got through the mock interview part, from what I understand she really blew the judges away. She really nailed it.”
Johnson says the program’s focus on trauma-informed care and employer engagement are two of the most important pieces of the program.
“For so many years when students go to class, education has been done to them. JAG gives them voice and choice,” he says. “In normal education when a student acts up and you send them to ISS (in-school suspension), or you kick them out or do whatever, when you are dealing with trauma, you’ve got to dig a little deeper. You’ve got to ask why. You’ve got to find out the issues going on outside of school so that they can be successful in school. These kids come to us not knowing when their next meal is coming up, where they are going to sleep at night. So, it’s hard to expect them to show up every day and focus on education whenever we are not the top priority in their life.”
Johnson says he has seen JAG’s efforts work on so many students over the past five years he has led the program in Lebanon.
“I’ve been working with at-risk youth for many, many, many years. You felt like you were sort of beating your head against the wall a lot of those years,” he says. “When JAG came along, JAG really gave it some teeth. It gave us a purpose, it gave us direction.”
As for Young, she no longer has problems with anxiety and depression. She graduated last month and is working at a hotel. She plans to pursue her education in hospitality and run her own hotel one day.
To listen to the full interview with Emily Young and Brandon Johnson, click below.
This is a four-part story series about Jobs for America’s Graduates-Missouri.
(AUDIO) JOBS FOR AMERICA’S GRADUATES PROGRAM TRANSFORMS MISSOURI STUDENT
(AUDIO) MISSOURI FIRST LADY SAYS JOBS FOR AMERICA’S GRADUATES PROGRAM IS A ‘WIN-WIN’
(AUDIO) MISSOURI ORGANIZATION HAS GREAT SUCCESS IN HELPING AT-RISK STUDENTS GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL
Copyright © 2021 · Missourinet