As an active national board member for Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), I was privileged to represent Microsoft this week at JAG’s 22nd Annual National Leadership Awards where Microsoft was awarded the “Top Corporate Investor of the Year” award for our commitment to supporting the JAG program with jobs, financial support and leadership roles.
The award comes upon the heels of a recent $850,000 donation from Microsoft to provide the latest software to run daily operations for the National organization as well as the 33 JAG state affiliates. Last month, we also helped launch the local JAG affiliate in Washington State. In addition to my participation on the National board, Microsoft also has education executives on the boards at local affiliates in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington states. Dave Zamborsky, account manager in the Mid-Atlantic Region, Andrew Ko, senior director of U.S. Partners in Learning, and Kristin Rhodes, West Region General Manager, are helping drive JAG success in their respective hometown states.
At Microsoft, our mission in education is to improve student outcomes and to help increase graduation rates, which is right in line with JAG’s purpose. JAG is a helping hand, a second chance for many kids. Established back in 1980, Jobs for America’s Graduates is a school-to-career program for at-risk youth in middle schools, high schools, alternative schools and community colleges across the country. JAG specialists work with young people through graduation and provide work-based learning experiences that lead to career advancement opportunities. The program’s success is truly impressive. They have served over 800,000 high-risk youth achieving a consistent 93% graduation rate across 33 states and 900 schools. Normally, these students are averaging about a 50% graduation rate which is why JAG’s results are so impressive. In addition, this program gets some of the best results dollar for dollar anywhere in the US.
Here’s how JAG impressed me the most: they prove that the power of a personal connection with children can make all the difference for kids that may be destined and feel like they are going to fail. JAG takes kids that are likely to drop out of high school with limited future options and inspires them to graduate high school and prepare for job skills. JAG Job Specialists spend time with the kids so they feel like they have something to look forward to and so they know that people care about them. These Specialist listen to their students, provide coaching on their gaps, and train them on important skills. Some of the advice to the kids is as simple as how to dress for a job interview or buying them an alarm clock so they can be on time for their interview. Believe it or not, these types of connections begin the turnaround in kids who are then encouraged to see a positive outlook. The Job Specialists at JAG are the real heroes in the program.
Over the course of the last year, I’ve had the chance to meet students involved with JAG and I’ve been overwhelmed with their courage and persistence to overcome their personal challenges in order to graduate high school, find their passion, and succeed. Back in May, I was in Delaware when Governor Markell launched and extended the JAG program to middle schools, and we were able to help honor and reward six Delaware high school seniors with new laptops for the success in the JAG program. The students have since graduated – one is in training at the Job Corp, another gained a full-time job with the Department of Labor to earn money to go to college, and the others are working and attending the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College.
More state leaders need to look at the JAG program and bring it to their local communities. It is powerful, it works. Because of JAG we have better schools, better communities, and more people working and contributing to our society. They’ve proven that engagement leads to better student outcomes. And what could be better than giving kids the feeling that they matter, and that with hard work and effort, they too can be successful.