I wanted to know more about the program and Central teacher Eliot Jeremiah asked if I could talk to his students about journalism while I was there.
JAG, in a nutshell, is a class for high school students who are having trouble either with school or in their personal lives and may be at risk of dropping out.
It’s a national program that’s run through Department of Workforce Development and WorkOne in Indiana. Teachers (called JAG specialists) are WorkOne employees, not employees of the school systems where they work.
Their job is to do whatever it takes to help students graduate, get a job or further their education. They do that through teaching basic skills such as showing up to work on time and staying away from workplace drama.
They also do that by connecting students with local job fairs and internships.
Tyshana Hawkins, a senior at Memorial, told me when I visited the class May 12 that being in JAG has changed her life.
Her father died in 2012. Shortly afterward, Hawkins decided to drop out of school.
It was her JAG teacher, Michael Griffin, that convinced her she needed a high school diploma to go places in life — and to provide for her son.
"He makes things possible when you don’t think it’s possible," Hawkins said. "He reminded me to think of my son, of the better jobs that I could get (with a high school diploma). He said if I needed help, he would be there to help me."
Hawkins will graduate this year.
Ashayla Mills, a junior at Memorial, said JAG taught her you don’t have to be rich to go to college.
Olivia Ferguson, Memorial senior, said JAG made her realize that her future isn't an abstract concept: Life after high school is going to happen and sooner than she thinks.
Students may be learning job skills and finding internships through JAG, but based on my observations the strength of the program isn't in that.
JAG works because it gives kids someone who’s in their corner.
Everyone’s harping on them to graduate; to make something of themselves.
But if they don’t have parents at home or other adults willing to dedicate major time and a few gray hairs, getting this done is hard for teenagers.
I didn't know how to fill out an application for a part-time job when I was a teenager. Someone had to show me how to do that.
I didn't know what to wear to a job interview. I needed advice.
I was tempted to quit when the going got tough at my first fast-food job. I didn't because an adult I trusted explained why that wasn't a good idea.
JAG isn't for students who just don’t care or students who don’t want to succeed. JAG is for students who would succeed if they had a little help.
Here’s a few quick facts about JAG:
JAG started in 1979 but didn't arrive in Elkhart County schools until 2008.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence used state funds to double the money available for Indiana JAG programs this year, according to Joe Frank at the state department of workforce development. That means that Indiana now has the largest JAG program in the country.
A JAG student at Central, Steve Somerville, recently won first place in public speaking at the 2014 JAG Career Development Conference, a state competition that challenges students to demonstrate how they are employable.
His speech is about who he is, where he’s going in life, and how JAG has helped him. Here it is:
Somerville got to meet Gov. Pence and have dinner with him, which doesn’t happen to every student who wins at the state competition. He also may have the opportunity to travel around the country speaking about JAG to other students.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that Concord High School is starting a JAG program this fall. That information came from WorkOne of Northern Indiana, but a Concord school official said that Concord is investigating the possibility of starting JAG and the school board hasn't yet approved it.