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J.A.G.: Help students prepare for life after high school

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Marshfield Alumni may recall a program called S.T.E.P. or Students To Employment Program years ago. As the name implies, the goal was to help students enter the workforce after high school. It was Marshfield Schools’ take on a national program that was going on at the time. Unfortunately, the program discontinued due to budget cuts. Years later, the program is back, but now it is known by its official title, Jobs for America’s Graduates or J.A.G.

J.A.G. is a national non-profit organization. Its mission is “to help students reach their full potential by graduating from high school and being successful at whatever careers they choose after graduation.” It consists of a comprehensive set of services including: classroom instruction, competency-base instruction, project based learning, advice and support, employer engagement, student-let leadership development and experience, job and post-secondary education placement services and much more.

Marshfield is one of 74 schools that participate in J.A.G.

“J.A.G. statewide is a terrific program and much needed for us at Marshfield.” So tells Mike Henry, Superintendent for Marshfield Schools. He and others noticed students needed something outside the basics, like math and science.

Jeff Curley, Principle of the Marshfield Schools, explains, “There is a group of students that we were unable to meet their needs. So we talked with R.O.T.C. and J.A.G., and both seemed to benefit the kids.”

Henry echoed the same thought about the students and added, “I felt there was a population of kids that just needed to be reached differently. I thought there was a high likelihood that J.A.G. would be able to connect with those kids, especially if we got the right instructor.”

Who would be the instructor for this welcomed addition to M.H.S.? Curley recalled, “We had people apply within the district, and we felt that Shelly was a great choice.”

Shelly Jones was selected as the instructor for J.A.G. and shared what she does. “My job, in a nutshell, is to research our students’ skill sets, what kind of job they want or want to go to college or military when they leave school. We create a career plan.”

Jones continued that her class is more than just the four walls at M.H.S. Students tour different industries and even bring in speakers and recruiters to the classroom.

“I do not stand in front of the class and lecture. We bring in speakers from different industries to teach them differently. We connect the dots of all those classes they take in school. Like why take math, english, history, or social studies. We bring those dots together and make them real-life skills.”

Preparing for life after high school can be strenuous and frightening. Especially if you feel all by yourself, Jones acknowledged this fear students may have.

“If you do not have a plan when you are in high school, you do not know where you are going to graduate. That is a nervous feeling in your gut. So we try to take that out.”

And Jones’ duties continue even after graduation.

“One of the neat components of this program is that as a specialist teacher, I follow our seniors who graduate for a year. They are a part of my roster. I will contact them once a month for 12 months to ensure they are doing okay. They are financially okay and paying the bills. They got a great job of keeping up in their classes. If they are in the military, I might talk to their recruiter or commander to see how they are doing. It is a different component than we have ever had. We are not just giving them a piece of paper, a high five, and hoping they do well. They have someone associated with the school checking on them and ensuring they are doing well.”

How have the students been reacting to this new course? Ask Ally Trantham. She won an essay contest regarding her own experience with J.A.G. and received a trip to Jefferson City.

“...The students in JAG aren’t “taught,” they are “led”. Each student has the power to be heard by their classmates and can face designated challenges made just for them. We aren’t corralled into a strict curriculum like cows in a pasture; instead, we are shepherded and led in the direction we need to go with the minimum amount of “corralling.” In today’s world, this is what kids need, not to be placed into a base cookie-cutter when their edges don’t match the base. School is forcing each kid to fit into a certain mold and not find their own, well-balanced, perfect match. In JAG, we are shown there is more than just one way to learn and be successful, and with the right resources and guidance, we can find the perfect outline that matches the best cookie shape for us...”

- By Ally Trantham, “What Makes JAG so Unique?” essay.

Henry, Curley, and Jones all agree this program is a positive experience for students and a step in the right direction for students of Marshfield looking for a different path.

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