Local JAG program helps students earn GED, become better citizens

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By Kristin Beck

One of the most important tools a person can arm themselves with when stepping out into the world is an education. Chuck Roberts and the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program want to help students who dropped out of high school earn their GED and open themselves up to more job and life opportunities.

JAG is a school-to-career program implemented in 700 high schools, alternative schools, community colleges and middle schools across the United States and the United Kingdom, according to its Web site. It has numerous state affiliates, including one in Kentucky called Job’s for Kentucky Graduates (JKG). These organizations are typically a state non-profit corporation with a board of directors, according to JAG’s Web site. However, some states operate through a state agency.

Roberts, who is one of the two program facilitators for Carroll County’s JAG branch, said the difference between the two is JKG is an in-school program that emphasizes more preventative-type measures, where as JAG is an out-of-school program.

 Roberts began working for Carroll County’s JAG branch in 2003. He has a bachelors degree in social studies and masters degree in education. Born and raised in Carrollton, it was an opportunity close to home, he said.

“There is a certain amount of civic pride and responsibility I have for these kids,” Roberts said.

Carroll County’s program is free for students who meet the financial qualifications, which are based off of their income or their parents. It is funded by the state through the governor’s discretionary fund. Currently, JAG has about 45 students from Carroll, Trimble, Gallatin and Owen counties. However, the number fluctuates month to month, with the highest number of students around 50 and the lowest at 25.

JAG coordinates a recruitment circle with adult education administrators in the area, Roberts said. While some students are court-ordered to attend, the program also keeps in contact with the Department of Juvenile Justice and high school guidance counselors who may know of students who are unable to graduate. He said they also put up posters to advertise the program. While they are not allowed to advertise in counties outside of their area, they will not turn away someone who comes to them.

JAG meets four hours a day, four days a week. However, Roberts said attendance is similar to enrollment in that it varies week to week. On average, about 10 students attend per week.

“I’d like to see all of them every day, but in reality that’s probably why they quit school is because it wasn’t working for them,” he said.

Roberts and his fellow program facilitator, Rebecca Reynolds, and student worker, Elizabeth Troxell, help the students study for their GED certificate. Since the GED is a standardized test, students can work at their own pace and get assistance in the areas they need help in.

“I like how they actually teach us and not just hand us work to do,” Jennifer Tackett, 18, said.

The facilitators find fun and creative ways to help their students learn the material, including math poker and science and social studies hangman. They also offer one-on-one instruction and practice tests to help prepare them for the test.   

“They take the time to teach you and break down all the steps, especially Chuck,” Samantha Dew, 18, said.

Because everyone is different, students are in the program for varying amounts of time. JAG’s school year is roughly from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Last year, 19 students earned their GED, Roberts said. This year, they are on pace to surpass that mark, with 12 students having earned their GED thus far.

According to Roberts, JAG is more than just academics.

“We try to produce good citizens,” he said. “We’re always looking for a needy cause.”

JAG participates in various service projects, including wrapping gifts for preschool children, performing landscape work around government buildings and serving meals to the elderly. Two hours per year of service work is required through the program. However, students receive incentives within the program for going above and beyond.

The program also tries to help students find jobs after they have earned their certificate. While Roberts said he wishes he could find more for the students, he said they keep their ears open for opportunities and help students with their resumes.

After all of his work with the students, the one thing Roberts won’t do is ask them why they dropped out of school.

“ I focus on the next step,” he said. “I treat them like adults because they made an adult decision and move on.”