JAG students competing Thursday, how the program is changing their paths in life

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Indianapolis, Ind. (February 4, 2016) - Some Marion County students will put their career development skills to the test Thursday, hoping to win a spot in state competition. This is a special day for the students competing at the JAG Career Development Conference because the were not on the path to graduate or get a job before joining JAG.

JAG, or Jobs for America's Graduates, started as a pilot program at Arsenal Tech High School in 2007 and it's now in 11 schools.

It helps juniors and seniors, who are at risk of dropping out, finish high school and find a career pathway.

The program just scored its first 5 out of 5 rating against national standards.

"It’s kind of like our Oscar, the JAG program Oscar, so we’re very excited about it," said Erica Cheney, EmployIndy Youth Director.

Adamarie Castaneda joined JAG her junior year.

"It’s made a huge impact in my life," said Castaneda. "I've done a lot of things that before I wouldn't have done because I didn’t know how to get started, like community service. I've completed over 60 hours of community service by myself, with our JAG class and online on my own time."

"That’s something I wanted to do before, but I never knew how to start it. And I have a job now, which JAG has helped me with because I created a resume, cover letter, and they helped me with my interviewing skills. So that helped me get the job."

Castaneda wants to be come a children's advocate attorney.

There are a lot of success stories like Castaneda's.

"I just had a student who received a Governor’s Award for career in technical education," said Beth Bowling, JAG specialist at Decatur Central High School. "She didn't do so hot in high school as far as academically, but she was determined to graduate. She was very independent, and was actually considered homeless based on her living situation, and she was determined to go to college and get a job."

"Now she’s at Vincenne’s University, studying to be a paralegal. And she’s at the top of her class, president of the Paralegal Association, a tutor and working a job. So it’s amazing to see the students that come into our program with various challenges and rise above their situation and realize that they have support and the ability within themselves to continue and pursue their education and dreams."

The support goes beyond the classroom.

"We offer services to students to help them financially if needed," said Bowling. "Say they needed an outfit for an interview, we can help them get that professional clothing. Or maybe they can’t afford their work shoes once they get a job."

"We do a year follow-up to make sure they have a successful transition into college or the workforce."

JAG leaders say with Mayor Joe Hogsett's focus on crime prevention and poverty, programs like this are essential to helping kids stay pointed toward graduating and contributing to society.

"No matter what type of job they’re interviewing for or what college they’re applying to, they’re going to get the job, they’re going to get into college, and they’re going to be ready to be productive members of society," said Bowling.

JAG is a program through the Department of Workforce Development.

"We’d love to have any kind of public input," said Cheney. "We’re always looking for funders to help expand the program. We’re in 11 schools right now and we’d love to be in more schools. We fully fund the program, so we don’t ask the schools to do anything but give us a classroom and the students."

The JAG Career Development Conference is at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Thursday is the regional competition where students will be scored on their skills in presentations, creative and critical thinking, interviewing/public speaking, writing and finance. Winners on Thursday will compete in the state finals in March.

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