Mexico Public Schools began implementing the Jobs for America’s Graduates program at the Mexico Education Center, alternative school, last school year. JAG is a school-to-work, drop-out prevention program for youth with barriers that has been in existent for forty years. JAG is an elective course that teaches career development, leadership skills, and life skills. The program is trauma informed using project-based learning to deliver the curriculum of 37 competencies by the JAG Specialist, their teacher. JAG is partially grant funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from the Department of Social Services.

The JAG class looks different on a daily basis which helps students stay engaged. Students schedule guest speakers to discuss different career pathways, social emotional lessons to help regulate emotions and behaviors, and field trips to learn of post secondary opportunities. Further, creating business partners within the community helps in the success of the JAG program, and we have been so fortunate to have found this with True Manufacturing. True employees have been guest speakers to discuss what skills employers are looking for, given factory tours, began mentoring relationships with students, and have even provided academic tutoring. We hope to acquire more business partners throughout the year in Mexico and have recently received confirmation from several employers guaranteeing interviews to any JAG student.

A portion of the JAG curriculum is the student-led career association where the students hold officer positions and work on tasks such as service learning projects and fundraising. Students also have the opportunity to compete in leadership events, such as public speaking, employability skills and project-based learning projects at the regional, state and national levels.

This month, Mexico JAG was able to take four students to the National Student Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 4-8. The students attended leadership classes each day, meeting other JAG students from around the nation networking and sharing ideas. Students were able to do a great deal of site seeing around the capital city to include: the White House, United States Capital, Holocaust Museum, Lincoln Memorial, Union Station, Washington Monument, Arlington Cemetery and the Martin Luther King Memorial. It was amazing to watch the students grow their leadership skills and confidence in such a short period of time.

Last year, Missouri JAG students had a graduation rate of 97% which is higher than the state average of 89.3%. We believe that our JAG program has had a direct affect on the graduation rate of Mexico Public School reaching above 90% for the first time in over a decade. JAG more than doubles the rate at which young people get jobs, including a 230% improving in acquiring full-time jobs. JAG specialists follow up with graduates for the first 12 months after high school graduation to continue to provide support and guidance during this important transition time.

JAG is a future ready strategy to strengthen our education system by serving youth needing additional assistance through classroom and work-based learning experiences. Our students and staff at Mexico Education Center have truly enjoyed having the Jobs for America’s Graduates program at Mexico Public Schools. We are fortunate to have the support of administration and a school board who prioritize student success of all students. Our hope is to eventually expand the JAG program in years to come to assist even more students.

Kerrie Ferrari is the director or alternative education.