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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Heritage High School teacher Ashley Haydock, left, chats with officers of the school’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program, which helps students enter the workforce.

Jobs program primes graduates for future

Helps track progress, shift students from school to workplace

Seniors Dashyia Haywood, left, and Cara Schaadt serve as officers for the JAG program at Heritage High School.

Cara Schaadt said she’s 98 percent sure a career in physical therapy is the right decision for her.

But other than picking a job, the Heritage High School senior said she wasn’t sure what step to take next.

“I have my parents and boyfriend to talk to about it, but not a group of my peers,” she said.

With some help from Heritage teacher Ashley Haydock, Schaadt learned about a program designed to do just that.

Jobs for America’s Graduates – JAG – is a state-funded program designed to help high school students make the shift from school to career.

This is the first year for the JAG program at Heritage, but students are already making strides in leadership, said Haydock, the school’s JAG coordinator.

“Many of these students are already leaders. We’re just taking those skills and using them to help them along,” she said.

Schaadt, a senior, serves as president.

Without the JAG program, Schaadt said she wouldn’t have the same support system she has today while she files scholarship applications and considers colleges.

Students must be enrolled as a junior or senior at a participating high school and are required to attend classes, do community service and be involved with their school’s JAG club.

There are 40 students involved at Heritage, and the number is split almost evenly between juniors and seniors, Haydock said.

The students recently elected eight officers who will serve the club through career and leadership development, community service, social activities and awareness and civic awareness.

Dashyia Haywood, vice president of career development, said although she’ll graduate after the first year of the program, she’s excited to see what the school’s JAG program can become.

“We’re the role models for what’s coming,” Haywood said.

Senior Grant Blauvelt, who serves as vice president for social activities and awareness, said he hopes JAG will help him develop social and leadership skills while encouraging him to be involved with his community.

He’s also taking advantage of the extra help Haydock provides in tracking scholarships and assisting students with selecting a career path.

“Mrs. Haydock has found me colleges to look at and really helped me set my career path,” Blauvelt said.

After students graduate, Haydock will stay in contact with them for a year, tracking whether they enter the workforce, go back to school or choose another path like military service.

“We’ll talk about their goals, and they may have different goals then,” she said. “… But we’ll stick with them for a year.”

Since this is the first year for the program, Haydock isn’t currently tracking any students, but she said JAG Indiana reports high success rates in finding jobs for students who participate in the program.

Sue Honcharuk, program director for JAG through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, said about 56 percent of students in the JAG program are employed after one year of leaving the program.

About 49 percent of students are enrolled in post-secondary education or training, she said.

“Indiana’s Regional Workforce Boards recognize the importance of connecting our youth to the labor market, and they have been very proactive in their service through the JAG program,” Honcharuk said.

JAG is funded through the Federal Workforce Investment Act.

Gov. Mike Pence included additional funding for the JAG program in his current budget at a rate of $6 million each year for two years, Honcharuk said.

“With the state funds, we will double the number of students served in the program with 47 new schools,” she said.

Students involved with the program have a 91 percent graduation rate, according to Department of Workforce Development data.

As of this fall, JAG serves more than 6,000 students through 103 programs.

Glynn Hines, who has served as a JAG specialist for East Allen County Schools for several years, said most of the students involved in the program come from challenging backgrounds.

“We have free and reduced-price lunch students, students from low-income families, foster kids, special needs, IEP (Individualized Education Program) students,” Hines said.