JAG program hosted by three county schools
At-risk high school students in Franklin County are receiving additional assistance thanks to the presence of a national non-profit program designed to reduce high school dropout rates.
Franklin County Schools is one of only 19 school systems in the state to provide the Jobs for America's Graduates school-to-career program, which was founded in 1980. The Alabama program, Jobs for Alabama's Graduates, started in 1996 and is available this year in 23 schools statewide.
For the third straight year, Alabama has been awarded the JAG National 5-of-5 Award, which is given for exceeding the national goals in the areas of graduation rates, total job placement and military service, total positive outcomes, total full-time placements and total full-time job placements.
Currently three county schools – Phil Campbell, Red Bay and Tharptown – provide the JAG curriculum, which is offered as an elective to students who meet specific at-risk criteria and is taught by a specialist who has received national JAG training.
"JAG prepares students for the workforce and life, and it's actually a class taught each day for grades 10-12 or 9-12," said Cynthia Forsythe, a Franklin County coordinator for the Title IV and BBBST programs. "There's a very stringent curriculum (JAG instructors) have to follow because they have to enter information nationally for monthly reports that are very detailed.
"This is good for the kids, and there's a follow-up process where each JAG specialist does a report on each kid the following year after graduation and keeps statistics to see if the kid is employed or in school."
The JAG program is funded through a competitive grant system that requires host sites to re-apply for funding each year.
"Unofficially, we will be granted for next year," Forsythe said. "There is a separate grant for each site, and there are only 27 available in Alabama.
"We have received $27,000 per site last the few years, and we possibly could receive $30,000 next year."
Thanks to the grants, schools with JAG programs feature a classroom with state-of-the-art equipment, including an overhead projector, computer and 92-inch electric screen.
"When we finish getting all of the equipment installed, the JAG instructors will be very well-equipped, and they'll be able to stream video through their classrooms," Forsythe said.
Bart Moss, a JAG specialist at Phil Campbell, said the program teaches a variety of life skills and job skills. Fifteen seniors graduated from the Phil Campbell JAG class last spring, and their post-graduation status is now being tracked by Moss. Fourteen of them are currently employed or taking college classes.
"They learned employment skills and job-seeking skills and how to act on a job interview, Moss said. "Now the goal is to make sure they're employed full-time and advancing in their job or in the military, or that they're enrolled in career tech, junior college or full-time college classes.
"The JAG program and the curriculum involved is something every student and every school needs, and definitely something these kids need because they might not know how to balance a checkbook or the good and bad of credit and debit cards."
The Phil Campbell JAG program has more than 35 students enrolled this year, and they will participate in a variety of hands-on projects throughout the year. Earlier this fall the class conducted a school-wide mock presidential election that allowed the students to learn first-hand about the candidates and the election process.
"The mock election was a project where the students learned about the candidates. I thought it would be interesting for them to see how the process worked and see how how their fellow students think," Moss said. "The things we do with our students is to get them more involved in school because many of them aren't in band, clubs or sports – we do a lot as far as helping out around the school and getting them involved in different things they don't normally do."