Clark County School District is ranked near the bottom of our country’s educational system, but Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (JAG Nevada), a statewide high school dropout prevention program, aims to do what it can to elevate the system.
Created in 2014, JAG Nevada started out in 22 schools and has since doubled its reach to students in 10th through 12th grades (as well as one middle school). JAG specialists are the glue behind the program. They come into the classroom and not only teach students the academic skills they need to graduate, but they also give them life skills that are essential beyond a high school education, including public speaking, résumé writing and tackling college applications. “We’re English teachers, we’re math teachers, we’re life teachers,” says Mike Agustin, a former member of the Air Force who’s been a full-time JAG specialist at Spring Valley High School since August.
After graduation, specialists conduct a 12-month follow-up, which proves to be just as important as getting the students to graduate in the first place. “Class of 2015 started off in June with a 70 percent graduation rate. After the follow-up period, we got up to 83 percent statewide,” says Elizabeth Philpott, regional program director of JAG Nevada. “That 12-month follow-up period is crucial because a lot of kids may feel left behind after they leave, but we stay on them to make sure they are successful.”
Brianna Maldonado, a 16-year-old junior at Spring Valley, says she owes a lot to JAG. When she started the program, she could barely look Agustin in the eye without laughing. Now she can confidently hold a gaze, and she credits JAG for helping her find her first job. She is considering going into the military after college, inspired by Agustin’s as well as Philpott’s stories of serving our country.
Any student can join JAG regardless of their GPA. It’s treated as a regular class that is integrated into their regular schedule and for which they receive a grade. The program limits classroom sizes to 45 to 60 students to ensure they receive the one-on-one time they need, Philpott says. This year, Agustin has 75 kids, but that’s less of an issue and more of a testament to his passion for helping as many students as possible.
“If you saw how these kids were from Day 1 to Day 104 … I call them my little weeds,” Agustin says. “A little bit of push and a little bit of sunshine, and these kids become amazing.” 7
To donate to JAG Nevada’s Clothing Drive, volunteer or find out more, visit jagnv.org.