BLHS students working for a better future, now
Looking over her cover letter on Monday, Alyssa Grimm worked to find a way to better explain in writing her interpersonal skills.
Just minutes before, she spoke confidently in front of her Basehor-Linwood High School class about how she had applied for seven jobs this year and has had two successful interviews. Grimm, 17, is a student in BLHS’s new Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program, which teaches students professional, life and academic skills.
“I honestly thought this was just another career counseling class,” Grimm said, “but we don’t just focus on jobs, we focus on ourselves and how we can improve.”
BLHS is one of 25 schools in the state that initiated JAG programs this year. The group of schools represents the biggest statewide startup in the country, according to JAG specialist Mary Guerra. Guerra has visited the Basehor Chamber of Commerce and the Basehor-Linwood Board of Education in the past month to share the benefits and progress of the program.
She says JAG is designed around activities-based learning in which students have the opportunity to job shadow, hear from different professionals and work to find a potential career field or course of study after high school. Guerra says the most unique thing about this program as opposed to other career counseling programs is that she follows the student’s path for a whole year after their graduation. In that year, Guerra will offer advice and serve as a continuing mentor as they enter the professional job market.
The students selected for the program are those from the bottom quarter of each class academically. At BLHS, four freshman, 14 sophomores, 12 juniors and eight seniors are participating in the program. The average GPA of the group is about 1.95, Guerra said. The goal of the program is to achieve 90 percent graduation rate for each class with at least 30 percent pursuing a college education.
Kansas is now one of 32 states to use JAG in its public schools in 2013, according to the JAG website. A JAG study from 1990 to 2011 indicated that 91 percent of the students involved in the program over those 22 years graduated and 77 percent of them found a full time job or pursued post-secondary education.
“I have freshmen who, hopefully, will be honor society by the time they are seniors,” Guerra said at the board of education meeting last week.
As a part of JAG, the BLHS students also form their own Career Association in which the classes elect a president and vice president of various topics including community service, civic awareness and social awareness. The elected leaders then lead the group in projects.
“This is really giving them leadership experience that they otherwise wouldn’t likely get,” Guerra said.
Grimm is the vice president in charge of community service and will be organizing future community service events.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Grimm said. “This program means a lot to me.”
Sophomores Jillian Brower and Brittany Rice acknowledged the affect the first three months of the class have had on them.
“This class has made me more comfortable speaking in front of people,” Brower said.
“We don’t just get explanations but we walk through things and learn from doing things,” Rice said.
Guerra is establishing relationships with local professional organizations through the Basehor Chamber of Commerce to set up job shadowing opportunities later this year.
Senior Alex VanErem, vice president of civic awareness, said the skills he is learning along with his JAG classmates aren’t just preparing him for a job, but for a better life.
“A lot of the stuff we are learning isn’t just job specific. It’ll help us if we are looking for jobs but it will help us if we go to college, too,” VanErem said.