Guest Commentary

Jobs for America’s Graduates program empowers Missouri students to enter the workforce

Students from Jennings High School in Jennings, Mo., participated in the Meals for a Million co-operative food packaging event with Jobs for America’s Graduates-Missouri, Inc.
Students from Jennings High School in Jennings, Mo., participated in the Meals for a Million co-operative food packaging event with Jobs for America’s Graduates-Missouri, Inc. jag-missouri.org

This fall, 2,000 students in 29 schools across Missouri will be part of a remarkable educational program. It’s called JAG — Jobs for America’s Graduates.

JAG has been around nationally since 1979, working with students who have academic potential but who also face significant barriers like poverty, challenging family situations and a history of personal trauma. Through JAG, students are encouraged, empowered and given the tools to unleash their potential by helping them graduate from high school and readying them to move into college, military service or a career.

JAG works with talented but socially unprepared students. This past year, JAG served more than 63,000 students in about 1,500 communities in 34 states. Since JAG’s inception, more than 1.3 million students across the country have benefited from it.

Every year since the program was founded, JAG students have achieved a high school graduation rate of 90 percent or higher. For the past three years, JAG-Missouri’s graduation rate has been close to 100 percent — nearly 10 percent higher than the overall Missouri graduation rates during those years. Plus, 92 percent of the 2017 JAG-Missouri graduates were engaged full-time in careers, military service or post-secondary education.

Although JAG came to Missouri in 1980, most Missourians are still not aware of this exceptional educational program. Gov. Mike Parson and I intend to change that, and that is why JAG will be one of my top priorities in my role as Missouri’s first lady. JAG addresses the governor’s focus on workforce development, with equal emphasis on urban and rural Missourians.

In 2018-19, JAG-Missouri will have about 1,650 students enrolled in the program and about 350 in the yearlong follow-up that is provided to each graduate. JAG-Missouri has 41 programs in 29 schools, with several districts adding middle school programs.

At its core, JAG is both a school dropout prevention program and a school-to-work program, thus helping address the national critical need for workforce readiness. JAG also helps tackle the well-known negative consequences of dropping out of high school: higher rates of unemployment, public assistance and incarceration, along with greater risks of poor health. By breaking these negative cycles, communities can stop the drain on economic and social resources, as well as create additional tax dollars through employment.

As the governor points out, about one in six Missourians receives some sort of public assistance. JAG is a program that can help break this cycle for the benefit of both the individual and the state.

The governor and I are honored to have co-chaired the JAG-Missouri statewide board since July 2017. We have had a chance to meet and visit with numerous JAG students in school districts across Missouri. They all have talent, grit and a hunger to learn. They want to succeed and have a better life, and they want to be productive citizens.

These students need someone who believes in them and is willing to create an opportunity to prove what they can do. That is why I believe in JAG and have made it a priority as first lady to be an advocate for JAG and make a lasting impact by empowering the next generation to succeed.

To learn more about JAG, I encourage you to visit www.JAG-Missouri.org.

Teresa Parson is first lady of Missouri.

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