Salute Our Heroes: JAG-K invests in Kansas students
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) offers at-risk or disadvantaged students support and resources they otherwise may not get outside the classroom.
“We cover a lot and try to fill in the gaps that- our education systems are really great in Kansas, but we also try to say like, what are you going to need in your life to be successful?” says Kami Mead, JAG-K specialist at Shawnee Heights High School. “Like how to get your first apartment? What’s it like? What’s a credit score?”
JAG specialists help students learn many of the soft skills necessary for succeeding as an adult.
“We work with them on resume, on team building, building any soft skills that they might need for their careers,” says Mead. “We bring in employers so that they can hear from other people in the community. You hear from guest speakers, we go out into the community often as well. The whole goal is to have our students job shadow and have internships before they graduate so that they already have a great solid connection and a pathway of where they’re wanting to go and what they’re wanting to do.”
To enter the JAG program, a student must meet at least six of the 48 qualifying criteria. Qualifiers include anything that might inhibit their success like lack of transportation or lack of adequate internet access to complete school work.
“We just meet our students where they’re at,” Mead says. “We have what’s called an individual development plan that we do with every student and we check in throughout the year where they set their own goals and we help them reach those goals and attain them and so that helps us know where to work with and have those harder conversations.”
Mead says her favorite part of the job is making connections with her students and watching them grow.
“They’re just my life. They will make you laugh, sometimes make you cry, but in a good way. But just the connections that I have with them. It’s something that really lasts especially when your students reach out to you we do a follow up where for the whole year after they graduate, we keep in touch with them once a month. And so that’s really awesome to hear after high school, where are you at? What can I do to support you? Let me look at your resume. Yes, I’ll be a reference those types of things that make sure that they’re on the right track and not just left on an island when they graduate.”
Tasha Lewis is a JAG-K specialist who works with students in delicate situations. Some might be in foster care, juvenile detention, or even experiencing homelessness.
“A lot of times a student will age out of foster care,” says Lewis. “And, you know, with family, usually you have somewhere to land. But in the foster care situation, that’s not always true.”
Lewis says her students are remarkably resilient and ready to move forward despite the other things they may be dealing with personally.
“Even though they come from stuff, tough situations, these kids are that I feel them some of the most resilient young people you could ever meet,” she says. “They have battled through some serious trauma but they’re ready to land on their feet. They they come with a positive attitude a little weary at first, but who isn’t when trying to figure out what’s next.”
She says that the job of a JAG-K specialist isn’t to tell students what they should want to do or be, but rather to help facilitate the dreams they already have.
“If they want to be a YouTuber and sit on the couch, okay, make it make sense,” she says. “Let’s figure this out. How does this look to you? So I try to do everything in my power to make that happen.”
JAG-K specialists jobs aren’t done after a student graduates, though. Students have a full year of once-a-month check-ins with their specialist after the graduate high school.
“So we follow them into adulthood,” says Lewis. “So many times, you know, you’re 18 and you’re just kind of thrown to the wolves. And we want to make sure that can be a wolf too. So we were right behind them. We’re helping them get enrolled in college. If they’re going into the workforce, we’re giving them those working skills, soft skills, whatever to kind of set the path that they want to take.”
Most importantly, JAG-K specialists love and care about their students. They’re invested in their success and are eager to see them become well-adjusted, happy adults.
For that reason, this week we’re saluting our heroes at Jobs for America’s Graduates Kansas.
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