It’s the final day of the #SDWeekofWork! Today, we are excited to feature a program that, while not new to South Dakota, is new to the Sioux Falls School District this year. The Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program was piloted at Roosevelt High School in the Fall of the 2021-2022 school year. The program is a state-based national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young people in school and on the job, leading to a productive and rewarding career.
JAG has been around for 40 years. In that time, the program has helped 1.5 million students across the nation reach academic success. The program recognizes that some students may face significant barriers to finishing high school, and it helps connect students to people, programming, and opportunities that empower them to graduate and move confidently towards their dreams.
The JAG program was first implemented in South Dakota in 2009 at Wagner and Andes Central schools. The program then expanded to several other middle and high schools in 2017. After seeing the success of the program in South Dakota schools and wanting to expand it to other schools across the state, during the 2020 Legislative Session, Governor Kristi Noem requested to hire a state director to lead the program, as well as funds to offer Districts to help with start-up expenses.
With the state-provided $10,000 start-up grant, the Sioux Falls School District was able to hire a JAG Specialist at Roosevelt High School in the Summer of 2021. Nicole Fette helped launch the program as the JAG Specialist this past fall.
The hiring of Fette was one of the most important pieces to launching the program. As School Board President Cynthia Mickelson said during a JAG presentation in February, “It’s really important who that teacher is and the relationships they start with the students because the program is all about relationship building…” Assistant Superintendent of Academic Achievement, Dr. Teresa Boysen quickly agreed with Mickelson, saying, “The teacher is the most important person in the room because they develop those relationships, along with the connections with the kids, and they can get students to do those things because of their connections and relationships, and that’s why the program is successful.”
It is evident that having the right person in the room is critical for the success of this program. The first cohort of RHS students is made up of 13 individuals who vary in grade levels from ninth through twelfth grade. Building principals, counselors, and teachers work together to determine which students may benefit from the program. Examples of students who would fit the program criteria are students who may have attendance concerns, are falling slightly behind educationally, or have had limited educational experiences.
In the daily one-hour class, students work on developing basic competencies that are critical for success both on the job and in everyday life. Students work on personal skills, life survivor skills, and workplace skills. They practice career development as well as leadership and self-development skills. From there, they take what is learned in the classroom and apply it to real-life experiences.
For example, in late-fall RHS JAG students attended a Leadership Development Conference in Rapid City at Western Dakota Tech. During this time, the students traveled across the state, which many of them had never done before. Experiences like traveling, touring a college, and being exposed to industry-leading experts are all first-time experiences for them. Not only is this program helping to develop their knowledge and skills, it’s also providing them with life experiences. An additional unique opportunity was attending Legislative Day in Pierre where they got to tour the capitol building, meet Governor Noem, and connect with other JAG students from across the state.
While the program is still very new, after one semester, data showed that students in the JAG program decreased the number of days missed before joining the program, and they averaged half a credit more than they did the semester prior to being part of the program. A unique aspect of the JAG program is that the support doesn't stop when the student graduates. Fette is responsible for checking in with the students monthly for one year past their graduation date to see how they are doing.
Overall, there have been 600 students served in South Dakota since 2009. The graduation rate for South Dakota students in the JAG program has been nearly 100%. The Sioux Falls School District is very excited that the JAG program will be extended to all four high schools starting in the Fall of 2022. The four JAG Specialists will attend a national training seminar over the summer to make connections with JAG leaders across the nation.
To see more information about the JAG program, watch the February Work Session here --->