Jobs for America's Graduates
Some barriers to success are observable, others are hidden. JAG-SD seeks to connect with students who have barriers to success and empower them to graduate from high school and move confidently toward the realization of their dreams.
JAG-SD is a program supervised by the South Dakota Department of Education and is a proven dropout prevention program. Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) is a state-based national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young people of great promise. In its 40-year history, the JAG Advantage has proven to deliver results.
JAG-SD Mission: To help young people of great promise succeed in both school and on the job, leading to productive and rewarding careers.
Governor Kristi Noem (center) celebrating JAG-SD success in Wagner (2019)
JAG is a class taught in high schools and middle schools by a JAG Specialist, who is an employee of the school district. The credit class can satisfy an elective credit required for high school graduation. Students are empowered to take the lead on planning projects centered on civic responsibility, leadership, social interaction, academic performance and professionalism. JAG students collectively decide how projects, class assignments and community engagement activities are carried out by electing a governing body, assigning leadership roles, then holding each other accountable. The eighty-four (84) JAG competencies are the result of employers' views on desired worker traits and skills, job search reviews and considerable feedback by Specialists. The thirty-seven (37) core competencies are grouped into six (6) clusters: Career Development, Job Attainment, Job Survival, Basic Skills, Leadership and Self-Development, and Personal Skills.
The overarching purpose of the JAG-SD program is to provide participants with classroom and work-based learning experiences that result in a quality job, leading to a fulfilling career after graduation.
JAG-SD has proven to be a cost-effective and successful program by increasing:
- Graduation Rates
- Academic Performance
- Job Placement
- Continued Education/Training
The JAG Advantage is based on a promise: JAG will give students an advantage that will set them apart from all other youth in today’s emerging workforce through student-centered programs that help young people achieve their fullest potential.
Project Based Learning
Project Based Learning (PBL) is a proven approach to prepare students for academic, personal and career success, where other strategies and traditional curriculum has failed. Research identifies the principles of PBL as a foundation to implement more learner-centered, inquiry-based, and active learning methods. JAG follows the Buck Institute for Education PBL model, a nationally recognized practice. JAG shifted to a PBL instructional strategy in 2015 as a vehicle to deliver JAG’s employability skills competencies, specific industry and employer content and engagement, and community problems and solutions. Elevating our education practice to this gold level standard ensures learners gain the benefit of real-world relevance that is critical to today’s workforce needs.
Trauma Informed Care
An increasing number of JAG students have experienced trauma. In the book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom trauma is described as “an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope.” JAG is a resiliency model. It demonstrates how to build relationships, gives learners voice and choice (even more so through PBL), teaches life skills, and helps learners overcome adversity.
Employer engagement has been a cornerstone activity of the JAG program since inception. In leveraging employer engagement as an instructional strategy, JAG elevates the practice by developing meaningful connections between our students and professionals, ideas and skills, and the classroom and real-life situations. Employers invest their resources, talent and knowledge to customize individual learning experiences for JAG students. Work-based activities and learning advances effective employer partnerships to provide students with the inspiration, motivation, knowledge and skills needed to be successful in post-secondary education and career pathways. This strategy deepens career exploration and first-hand experience in working environments to optimize advancement for learners. PBL provides a natural vehicle to implement workforce development practices in the classroom, preparing students for employer experiences.
The JAG Model blends these approaches and when delivered effectively, Specialists will deliver JAG competencies, engage the Student Center Association, and work with employers in strategies that are healthy and supportive to JAG students.
There are ten (10) common elements of the JAG Model that are embedded in the six program applications. These elements are adapted to the audience served in each program application.
Student Selection JAG research has proven over three decades that we gain the greatest impact by serving those participants that have the greatest challenges to graduation, employment and/or pursuit of a postsecondary education. An advisory committee (comprised of faculty, administrators and counselors) assists the JAG Specialist in selecting students for the Program Roster. Priority is given to students that “need, want and can profit” from the services delivered by JAG Model programs.
Classroom Instruction. A trained JAG Specialist provides individual and group instruction to 35-45 students using the competency-based JAG National Curriculum that fits the needs of the program application of the JAG Model. JAG Specialists administer a pre- and post-test that provides a gain score to assess the attainment of the JAG competencies.
Adult Mentoring. The JAG Specialist provides individual attention to students focusing on reducing the number of barriers preventing him or her from receiving a high school diploma, securing employment or pursuing postsecondary education and/or training that leads to a career. Additional adult mentors are recruited to assist with barrier reduction or removal.
Leadership Development. All JAG students participate in a motivational student-led organization – the JAG Career Association – to build on the skills gained in the classroom and to develop leadership and teaming skills to improve employability and advancement. Annual State Career Development Conferences (CDC) provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their employability and leadership skills and be recognized for their achievements. JAG conducts an annual National Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the National Leadership Awards Events in November.
Guidance and Counseling. JAG Specialists provide informal guidance to students on career and life decisions and, based on the individual needs of students, connect them to school-based or professional counseling services to address more serious barriers.
Job and Postsecondary Education Placement Services. Specialists are engaged in intensive, one-on-one employer marketing and job development activities to identify quality job placement opportunities for each graduate. Grades are assisted in the exploration of postsecondary education opportunities and navigation of the financial aid and application processes to pursue the most appropriate opportunities.
Linkages to School and Community-Based Services. JAG programs are a school based “one-stop center” for youth with barrier to success to ensure that they receive appropriate academic and social services from available resources in the school, program and community.
12-Month Follow-up Services. JAG provides 12 months of post-graduation follow-up and support services on the job and/or enrollment in a postsecondary institution.
Accountability System. Computerized tracking of participants served, services delivered and performance results (graduation rate, positive outcomes, rates, aggregate employment rate, full-time jobs rate, full-time placement rate, further education rate, wages, and return to school rate) is a critical component of every JAG program. The Electronic National Data Management System (e-NDMS) is the vehicle by which JAG programs are led, managed, and evaluated. Accountability is also assured with periodic site reviews and e-NDMS data reviews resulting in the preparation of an Accreditation Report for the purpose of continuous improvement. JAG data collection is used to produce research reports that have been invaluable in assessing the effectiveness of JAG State Organizations and local program affiliates in fully implementing programs, delivering services, and achieving high performance outcomes.
Technical Assistance and Professional Development. JAG staff and consultants provide new and established state organizations and local program affiliates with an array of technical assistance and professional development opportunities. JAG conducts extensive on-site training in launching new state organizations as well as annual events, including: (a) Pre-NTS Professional Development Workshops—intensive workshops targeted to implementing JAG Model programs and (b) National Training Seminar—the largest gathering of JAG staff and stakeholders to celebrate the achievement of high performance outcomes at the close of the 12-month follow-up period on May 31 annually and recognize high performing state organizations, sites, programs, and Specialists.
JAG-SD currently operations in 5 school districts serving a diverse population of students across South Dakota. While JAG-National has multiple program applications, JAG-SD focuses on Middle School and Multi-Year Programs.
Middle School Model
The primary mission of the Middle School Program is to help 6th through 8th graders to transition more successfully from middle to high school. Specialists provide an array of counseling, skills development, career association, and experiential learning experiences that will improve their academic performance, school behavior, attendance, confidence, participation and self-esteem. Middle School participants will improve their skills in leading and being an effective member of a team. This model is currently offered at Wagner Middle School.
The primary objective is to keep participants in high school through graduation and improve the rate of success in achieving education and career goals. The Multi-Year Program helps 9th to 12th graders prepare for and successfully complete high school, lasting to 60 months. Students are recruited in the 8th grade to attend JAG instructional classes during the 9th, 10th, 11th and/or 12th grade and receive support services for one year following graduation.
JAG-South Dakota was piloted at Wagner Community School and Andes Central High School during the 2009-2010 school year. By the third year, the South Dakota Office of Indian Education began overseeing JAG-SD. Three programs were active in districts located within American Indian Reservations.
In 2012, four JAG Multi-Year program students from Wagner High School spoke at the National Indian Impacted Schools Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas and shared how the JAG program has helped them in being prepared for the future.
JAG-SD ebbed and flowed through the years. 2014 brought an expansion of JAG-SD along with the first state Student Leadership Conference. During the 2017-18 school year, six high schools and two middle schools had 237 students participating in their schools’ JAG programs.
Resilient JAG-SD Specialists and students have kept JAG-SD progressing. In October 2019, after a moving visit to Wagner, SD, and subsequent emotional testimonial during the 2019-20 legislative session, Governor Noem fully funded a state director to help support and increase the impact of JAG-SD.
Currently the South Dakota Department of Education wishes to expand the number of JAG model programs across the state.
The JAG-SD model is implemented during the school year as an elective class. School personnel identify students with at least five of the over 50 barriers to success who will benefit from the competency-based employability skills curriculum. A certified teacher from the district, called a JAG Specialist, receives specialized training to implement the model. In addition, the Specialist maintains contact with students for 12 months following their graduation from high school in order to assist with positive post-graduation outcomes.
In order to implement the JAG-SD model, there is a commitment needed from the schools/districts:
- Salary and benefits for JAG Specialist
- Release time for JAG Specialist to attend bi-monthly team meetings
- Board resolution adopting program
- Funds allocated for transportation to business field trips, college visits, two in-state conferences, JAG Specialist training and the national Student Leadership Academy in Washington, DC.
To learn more about Jobs for America’s Graduates, please visit JAG.org.
Business volunteers play an integral role in the success of the Jobs for America’s Graduates initiative. If you are interested in any of the opportunities below, please contact Beth Schneider, JAG-SD State Director.
- Volunteers to bring the business perspective to classrooms by discussing a wide range of employability skills and employer expectations
- Tours of employer facilities to expose students to a variety of jobs, dress codes, peer interactions, and business culture
- Student mentoring, which can happen in the school setting or be integrated into on-site employer visits
- Job shadowing or internships for high school students
- Serve on a panel of business judges for statewide or regional student competitions
- Sponsorship and donations to cover transportation costs
For more information or questions, contact
Beth Schneider, JAG-SD State Director,, with the South Dakota Department of Education, 605-295-3990.