Executive Director, Jobs for America’s Graduates Nevada
A lot of these young people have been given messages by the education system, inadvertently or purposefully, that they’re not worth the investment, that they’re failures. Our message to them is not only do you belong in school, but this is your vehicle for success.
When I was in high school, my parents were going through some marital difficulties and I became completely disengaged. I barely graduated and even had a counselor tell me I should just drop out because I would never amount to anything. I was apparently not supposed to be college material.
The motivation to prove that person wrong pushed me all the way through to graduate school. Today, it helps me understand the students we work with at JAG. They don’t fit neatly into that mainstream. They typically come in from the bottom quartile of their academic class, have a relatively high number of absences or a low GPA. But these kids are very smart and very talented. What we need to do as an education system is find new and creative ways to support them.
The key to our success is our connection with the students. We provide an in-school intervention, so we are a part of the system. There are three components to our work. The classroom component focuses on workplace readiness and personal development. We then have a career association that includes leadership development, fundraising, civic engagement, community service. The third component of our work is assigning each student a JAG specialist tasked with developing a plan for each student and keeping them on track to graduate. And it really works. Our graduation rate last year was 83% – higher than the state of Nevada! We are proud of this but we want to keep doing better.