Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) is a national program, and the Missouri branch has been around since the 1980s. However, the program did not enter Charleston High School until the 2017-2018 school year, following the loss of a previously well-received JROTC program.
Upon arrival, there were many questions about JAG and what impact it would have on students. Kyle Johnson was hired as JAG Specialist and in November, an initiation and installation ceremony was attended by then-Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson, among others.
The program had a successful launch, and that winter, Johnson took four JAG students to the National Student Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C. where they visited national monuments and heard powerful messages about leadership.
CHS JAG began to flourish in the classroom as well, with team building activities, job skill training, and guest speakers. Students were given ownership in the program, being tasked with designing an official JAG logo, electing officers, speaking on behalf of their local chapter, and more.
Part of the JAG mission, sought in a variety of ways, is to support youth to graduate from high school and transition into college and careers. While other classes teach more traditional subjects, JAG is focused on exploring futures and potentials, building capacity, and practicing personal responsibility.
Now about a year later, the CHS JAG program is even stronger than before. What started with around 40 members has now increased to 50 JAG students in 2018-2019, the maximum number currently allowed.
Johnson gets to see first-hand how much of a difference JAG is making in the lives of Charleston students. He says out of the 6 senior JAG members, all of them graduated and had positive outcomes.
Johnson says that one of the most exciting measures of the programs' success so far came with a handwritten letter and a retweet in early September.
The letter came from a CHS graduate and former JAG student, now graduating from basic training with the US Army. Private First Class Lamar Douglas thanked Johnson for teaching him some of the job and interpersonal skills necessary for becoming successful after high school.
"Very humbled today..." Johnson shared on social media upon receiving the letter. "(Lamar) has no idea how much his nice words help validate what we do in JAG everyday."
This was soon retweeted by Teresa Parson, wife of newly appointed Missouri Governor Mike Parson, who congratulated Douglas and thanked Johnson for his dedication.
The JAG program looks to have a bright future at Charleston High. The school is gearing up for the 2018 JAG Initiation Ceremony on October 29, as well another trip to Washington, D.C. this winter. In the classroom, they plan to continue highlighting college and career paths and job skills, taking field trips, and more.
Johnson says he is very encouraged with the results of the JAG approach thus far, and is thrilled to have the local and state-level support.
"I feel blessed to be in this position to help students in such a real, practical way," says Johnson.