It’s easy to get lost in a school with 800 or 1,000 students. Just hang back a bit and don’t say too much. Maybe nobody will notice if you don’t pass the test. Or hand in an assignment. Or even show up for a few days.
Or then again, someone may care enough to refer you to a special program known as JAG.
Jobs for America’s Graduates is a national initiative designed to give young people support in maneuvering through school and a boost toward fashioning a career.
At Charlotte Amalie High School, JAG is in its fourth year and by all accounts it’s making a difference to many of the 40 students currently enrolled.
Like other courses, JAG classes are 90 minutes and are generally arranged by grade level, although there is some mixing of students from different grades and all of them are welcome to use the classroom as a resource center at odd times.
The course is primarily a life skills and business training program, co-sponsored by the Education and Labor Departments. Students learn how to craft resumes, role play for job interviews, get tips about dressing to impress potential employers and attend workshops on subjects such as conflict resolution. In the summer, those who are 16 or older are eligible for a summer job as part of a six-week summer employment program. Younger students have the opportunity to attend job training workshops at Labor.
But at CAHS, JAG is also a support group for coping with the stresses and challenges of school as well as a sort of club promoting community service.
About 20 students gathered in Josette Illis’ classroom at the end of last month, some to talk about the program, many to get a little help from their friends or to use the computer, and one or two just to have someplace to be.
At one table, Illis, who has taught the course since it started, sat with several girls in a semi-circle around a computer screen researching Haile Selassie for their history class. At another, Miracle DelRio Nibbs, an 11th grader and president of the CAHS division of JAG, was helping two 10th graders with their math homework. At a third table, Andrew Madir watched as Vornae Kuntz filled in the letters for him on a poster Madir was preparing for a Black History Month assembly.
“If I do it, it’s going to come sloppy,” he explained.
“We do team work,” Illis said. “We’re a little family in JAG.”
Several students echoed that description.
“We help each other,” said Marilu Chery. A student who is good in math helps another who has trouble with numbers but has strength in languages, and that student, in turn, helps someone else with his English project.
“It’s like a circle.”
“This class helps you pass” other classes, said Fletcher Johnson.
Several students said they enjoy the community service projects they take on through JAG. They’ve acted as runners for the annual Homeless Connect Day of Caring, organized food drives for Catholic Charities, and visited homes for the elderly during the holidays.
Each year, during the Week of the Young Child in April, the high schoolers visit the Head Start Center to play with the children, enjoy music with them and read them stories.
This year, Illis said, “My students are writing their own stories” to share with the preschoolers.
CAHS principal Carmen Howell introduced the JAG program in February 2010; Illis, a career specialist, was assigned to it by the Labor Department.
“The career specialist can’t be like the traditional teacher,” Howell said. “She’s an advocate” for the students, and a life coach. “Ms. Illis is like another parent for them.”
A team comprised of a school counselor, the administration and the JAG teacher determines which students get to join JAG, Howell said.
“Some of our at-risk kids have been placed in there and have met with some success,” she said. “It’s a program that we’re proud of.”