CLARKSVILLE — Kelsey Pease’s anticipation grew with the announcement of each place ahead of the declaration of the award-winner.
The Clarksville High School senior would have been satisfied with being an honorable mention, happy with third place and ecstatic about finishing second. But her name would be the last one read aloud.
On May 7, Pease won state Outstanding Senior during the 13th annual Jobs for America’s Graduates Career Development Conference. The most prestigious of the JAG awards, Pease became the first student from Region 10 to win Outstanding Senior after completing a rigorous contest process that included writing an essay, obtaining three letters of recommendation and being interviewed by judges about her experiences with JAG.
A little more than a year after the program launched at Clarksville High, Pease brought back the top recognition to Southern Indiana.
“It was so shocking and exciting, and I felt very proud of myself because I put a lot of work into it,” Pease said.
Preparing students for life after high school is the principle behind JAG. Students learn financial literacy such as balancing a checkbook, gauging interest rates and applying for a mortgage. They work on job applications, practice writing cover letters and participate in mock employment interviews. They develop leadership skills and learn how to take constructive criticism.
“With JAG, everybody can benefit from it, and everybody needs it,” said Lori Stamatovich, manager for JAG Region 10.
JAG partners locally with Southern Indiana Works, as the program is under the umbrella of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Statewide, there are 130 JAG sites with more than 4,100 students enrolled in the program. Six high schools participate in Region 10 – Austin, Scottsburg, New Washington, New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville — with 167 students enrolled this school year. JAG is open to juniors and seniors.
Fifty students participated in the 10th Region JAG competition, taking part in categories including public speaking, critical thinking and career presentation, Stamatovich said.
Pease won Outstanding Senior in the regional competition and was awarded a $225 gift card and a laptop.
At the state competition, Pease faced 11 other regional winners.
“These are the very best of the best as this is the most prestigious competition,” Stamatovich said.
Pease will earn $1,500 for winning the competition and is one of eight students to be awarded a $2,000 Ken Smith Scholarship.
Pease plans to attend Indiana University in Bloomington this fall and wants to seek a major in journalism as well as a teaching certificate.
Pease’s JAG specialist at Clarksville High, Stacey White, was recently recognized as JAG Teacher of the Month, and CHS Principal Adrienne Goldman was recognized as the local JAG Principal of the Year.
Stamatovich said those achievements show how strong the Clarksville program, the newest one in Region 10, has become after just a little more than a year of existence.
It was White who entered Pease into the Outstanding Senior competition.
“It’s huge for Kelsey,” White said. “She works so hard with everything she does and you couldn’t ask for that to happen to a better kid.”
JAG is making a difference in students’ lives, teaching them skills that will be necessary for their futures regardless of their career paths, White said.
Pease had initial interest in JAG because the program offered training in areas not covered in other classes such as preparing for job interviews and seeking careers that will support a good lifestyle.
“The job that we get in high school is very different than the job that we’re going to get for the rest of our lives,” said Pease, who works after school and has accumulated several hours of community service as part of her JAG commitment.
The program also teaches life lessons and inspires students to adapt to challenges and setbacks, Pease said.
“Before the JAG program, I was really hard on myself, so even if I was doing great things, I was always looking at the things I wasn’t doing,” she said.
“My JAG specialist has really helped encourage me to look at my failures and turn them into something amazing, and look at it as an opportunity.”
Fred Payne, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, was one of the judges who interviewed Outstanding Senior contestants.
The JAG program helps students to graduate from high school with a better sense of self, including their capability of setting and achieving career goals,” Payne said. “JAG students participating in this year’s event received the recognition that they so rightly deserve.”