You are currently viewing At the height of the pandemic, this national education program achieved some of its best results

At the height of the pandemic, this national education program achieved some of its best results

For more than 40 years, the national nonprofit organization Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) has worked to prevent school dropout and help America’s most vulnerable young people succeed in postsecondary education and earn good jobs. It became the nation’s premier education and job readiness/placement program for troubled teens, helping more than 1.6 million young people during its four decades of operation. (Full disclosure: For several years I served on the JAG-Missouri Board of Directors.)

Like all schools and educational programs, JAG faced a major crisis when, at the height of the pandemic in 2020-2021, absenteeism, school dropout and learning loss reached record levels at across the country.

Students and schools are still struggling to recover from these setbacks, with an estimate suggesting that in the 2020-2021 school year, growth in student achievement – ​​as measured by test scores – has slowed so much so that even in low-poverty schools that have had to rely on distance learning, students have lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction. In very poor schools that remain remote, student performance has lost about 22 weeks, the equivalent of more than half a school year.

So in this very challenging environment, an important question was how JAG, which now operates in nearly 1,400 locations in 39 states, would operate. Would its students, already facing multiple obstacles and vulnerabilities, suffer heavy educational losses? Would their dropout rate skyrocket? Would they become a lost generation?

In fact, the exact opposite happened. Based on recently released data, the results for the JAG Class of 2021 are among the best in the program’s 41-year history. Consider these results:

  • The graduation rate for the JAG Class of 2021 was 96%, compared to a national graduation rate for the same period of approximately 84%.
  • JAG graduates had an unemployment rate of 6.25%, about 40% lower than the rate of 10.4% for all 18-19 year olds.
  • JAG has improved the percentage of its graduates who pursue post-secondary education, from 40.5% for the Class of 2020 to 46.6% for the Class of 2021. In contrast, post-secondary enrollment of high school graduates has increased. actually declined nationwide. .
  • Of the 2021 JAG graduates, 78% achieved what’s called a “positive outcome,” meaning they were either 1) employed full-time, 2) employed full-time and attending a college. post-secondary education or 3) part-time and registered employees. full-time at a post-secondary institution. That’s a two percentage point increase from the previous year, when the pandemic was just beginning.
  • For youth of color, pass rates for JAG students were significantly higher than their non-JAG counterparts in the same 18-19 age categories.

How it works

Although the JAG model can be applied in middle, extracurricular, or alternative schools, the most common format involves high school students who have been identified by school officials as facing significant barriers to graduation. degree, usually some combination of poverty, family instability and personal trauma.

Each program is managed by a specialist, usually a full-time teacher at the school. The standard program includes these elements:

  • A cohort of 35-45 participants completes a credit course that trains them in 37 employability skills involving career development, obtaining employment, job survival, life skills, leadership, personal development and personal skills.
  • The emphasis is on project-based learning, providing students with realistic learning experiences that help prepare them for the modern workplace.
  • A student-run JAG club called the Career Association trains students into teams that perform tasks often found in jobs today and tomorrow.
  • The specialist provides guidance, mentorship and personal support to participants. For many JAG students, this is the first positive relationship they have with an adult.
  • Students benefit from enrichment experiences such as a national conference in Washington, D.C. or a statewide career development conference.
  • Specialists follow students for at least 12 months after graduation, helping to find and search for employment and/or navigate post-secondary education opportunities. They also track students’ academic and professional progress on a monthly basis during the follow-up year.
  • For students who may not have graduated yet, the specialist continues to help them complete the remaining requirements.

why it works

JAG is effective for several reasons. but here are six elements that have guided its work since its inception and help explain its continued success.

Bipartisan leadership

Fourteen governors – Republicans and Democrats – serve on the JAG National Board of Directors (more governors than any other board in the country). They are joined by a dozen senior Fortune 500 executives and national community, organizational and education leaders.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), chairman of the JAG National Board of Directors, said this of the JAG’s most recent numbers “…some of the best results in the organization’s 41-year history – and most impressively, they came during one of the toughest school years the nation has ever seen… In Louisiana, we’re expanding the program again in the light of these results. JAG-Louisiana is now in 165 schools. This program has had a positive effect on our state’s overall graduation rates and has helped young Louisianans take advantage of some of the extraordinary job and career opportunities that are now available in Louisiana. We need every one of our young people to join our economy.

JAG Vice Chairman Republican Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa added: “Over the past two years, JAG has delivered when it was needed most. In light of its extraordinary success, the program in Iowa is expanding significantly from its current 100 locations to 150 schools in the coming year, and we plan to grow another 300 to 350 in the years to come. come. With results like these in Iowa and across the country, it’s clear why this organization has enjoyed such bipartisan support throughout its four decades.

Multiple sources of funding

JAG uses several braided sources of funding to support its program. Federal money, private support, state appropriations and school district funds have been combined in various ways, allowing states and local schools to fund a cohesive and cohesive model of education recovery focused on young people at risk.

Partnerships with employers

The high employment rate of JAG students is due in large part to the confidence that the 19,000 employers who work with JAG have in how students are prepared for the job market. Mastery of the 37 employability skills enables students to meet or exceed the requirements that employers have reported to JAG as the most crucial.

Employers interact with JAG students in the classroom and on the job. Now more than ever, these employers are ready to be aggressive in creating employment opportunities and accelerating career paths to high-quality jobs.

The specialists

JAG specialists are key to the program’s impact. They are local, hands-on teachers, coaches and mentors who are dedicated to helping students succeed. For many students, the specialist becomes the first trusted adult they have had in their lives, serving as a source of motivation, inspiration and guidance.

Students are seen as talented and resilient individuals

Young people served by JAG are treated as talented and resilient individuals, determined to succeed. What they need is advice, resources and support to become excellent students, workers and citizens. JAG believes that students should be responsible for their own success.

Well-defined indicators of success

JAG has maintained a robust accountability system that annually tracks information on students served, services provided, and outcomes achieved. This data is used to establish and refine program best practices.

And after

JAG officials called the latest results “remarkable,” not least because they were achieved during what many observers consider one of the toughest school years in the history of public education. American.

Ken Smith, president of Jobs For America’s Graduates, said, “The key takeaways we have drawn from the results of last year’s graduating class and 40 years of JAG experience…are that we know what to do to help young people in need succeed. It can be done – and JAG has proven for four decades that it can be done regularly, at scale and over time. The second conclusion is that young people in our country are clearly promising young people, if they receive the help they need to succeed. We must now ensure that all young people have the opportunity to fulfill their promise. In short, we must take what works and do much, much more of it, at scale, in this time of extraordinary impacts of the pandemic.

Reflecting this feedback, the JAG National Board of Directors has adopted an aggressive new strategy – Youth Opportunities and Outcomes 2024 with the goal of doubling the number of students served to 150,000 nationwide as well as adding services to improve the credentials students receive so they are ready for good jobs upon graduation. Under this plan, JAG aims to add 200 new schools/cohorts in the next school year.

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