News and Tribune

Education/Schools

February 6, 2014

Going from at-risk to at work

Jobs for American Graduates helping students

CLARKSVILLE — Last year, she was at risk of not graduating. She might not get a diploma, seriously limiting what she could do for a career.

Now, she’s going to attend Ivy Tech for a nursing degree through a program that taught her, among other things, soft skills employers want.

“[I learned] commitment to success, to succeed not only at the little things, but the big things,” Kansas James, a senior at Jeffersonville High School and a participant in their pilot program of Jobs for American Graduates.

Christal Stephenson, JAG community outreach coordinator, said students may suffer academically, but the lack of a parent or other factors may put them at risk for not finishing high school.

“They don’t necessarily have the traditional support system,” Stephenson said. “They may be in a foster home and that may be their only barrier.”

The program started in August to help at-risk students — either academically or with other factors that might prevent them from graduating — in New Albany High School and Jeff High. At their Career Development Conference on Thursday, students competed in written and oral skills to show employers what they’ve got.

Jackie James, administrative services and operations manager for the Region 10 Workforce Board, said helping students with difficulties helps them with their own issues, but also aids businesses.

“All of the students that are targeted in these classrooms are at risk of not graduating,” James said. “In addition to these work skills and future skills that we’re trying to work with them on, we’re trying to give them the confidence they’ll need to, hopefully, earn their high school diploma.”

Students competed in their ability to balance checkbooks, give presentations in front of groups and communicate in writing, among other skills. At the end of the conference, they were awarded certificates based on how they performed.

Many of the 60 participants went home with some sort of honor.

But students also got the opportunity how to conduct themselves at a business lunch or dinner, learning the etiquette of restaurants where an interview might be conducted.

Brian Cleveland, a JAG specialist at Jeffersonville High School, said putting students in team building and role playing situations help them learn skills they may not have gotten from parents or other role models.

“You make fun of phrases like fake it ‘til you make it, but that’s what you’re doing,” Cleveland said. “You’re practicing to be the adult. When you feel comfortable doing it, then you own it, you are the adult. I don’t care what your age is.”

Cleveland said it was inspiring to see students pick up their step and gain confidence through the program and hopes it serves them well in the future.

“You really do choose your life,” Cleveland said. “Not in one choice, but a thousand micro-choices. If you have a focus in what you want to do, you literally choose your life. If they can learn that, then it’s just a matter of learning how to make your choices.”

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