April 30, 2020
(TOPEKA) A Kansas student has had her life changed by a program at her high school, and others have taken notice.
Thanks in part to a program that helps students overcome barriers to success, a teenager named Kira has put a lifetime of abuse, neglect and stunted development behind her, and has a bright future ahead. She shared her story of resilience and recovery on Kansas Public Radio (KPR) in February, and has received a special opportunity as a result.
A participant in the Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) program at her high school, Kira was one of about 30 students from across the state who participated in JAG-K Day at the state Capitol on Feb. 11. The group was recognized in the Senate chamber, met with Gov. Laura Kelly and legislators and with Jobs for America’s Graduates’ national president, Ken Smith.
During the February visit to the Statehouse, Kira was interviewed by J. Schafer of KPR about her experience in JAG-K. Kira is an elected state officer in the program and qualified to compete in the Public Speaking competition of the JAG National Student Leadership Academy in Washington D.C. last December.
She told Schafer about competing in the nation’s capital, as well as about her life leading up to that experience. The interview, which concealed her full identity, aired Tuesday, Feb. 25. The response was dramatic.
Upon learning of Kira’s story, which involved significant abuse and neglect by her parents and other relatives, as well as her impressive growth in high school, Gov. Kelly invited the high school junior to a private meeting at the Kansas Statehouse. Unfortunately, that March meeting was postponed due efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus.
But a Kansas attorney heard the interview and was moved to help Kira on her path to success. He contacted KPR to offer to pay up to $60,000 of Kira’s college expenses.
In a follow-up interview, which aired Thursday, April 30, a member of the JAG-K staff who worked closely with Kira provided Schafer with additional information. Joni Bolen, a regional director with JAG-K, described the student’s background, obstacles to achievement, and growth achieved through program. She also described Kira’s reaction to hearing that someone was going to pay her college expenses.
“To say that Kira was excited to hear about this life-changing gift is an understatement,” Bolen said. “She was brought to tears by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. She was in disbelief that someone she had never met before would offer her such a gift. Kira has constantly worried about paying for college and now that burden has been lifted!”
“This has been an amazing story all along,” said Chuck Knapp, JAG-K president/CEO. “Seeing Kira develop as a student and an accomplished speaker has been remarkable, considering where she began.”
Kira credits JAG-K with much of her personal and academic growth.
“I’ve seen it change my life around, and I’ve watched it help other students,” Kira said. “It helped me get through a lot of my depression and a lot of things I went through mentally. Honestly, it gave me a second chance. And I’ve watched it give other students second chances for their own personal reasons. I’ve seen students who, if they hadn’t (been involved in JAG-K), they probably wouldn’t have gone to college or done anything.”
Kira said that, in addition to promoting her social-emotional growth, JAG-K provided her the skills and confidence she needed to achieve academically.
“It definitely helped me mature as a student and do really good in school,” she said. “I wouldn’t have developed as a public speaker, and I wouldn’t have gone to D.C., and I definitely would not have the grades that I do now. I probably would still be the quiet girl in the back of the class who wouldn’t talk to anybody. JAG-K has really made me open up by volunteering, doing things in my community, and just developing confidence.”
JAG-K is a multi-year, in-school program for students in grades seven through 12 that offers tools to successfully transition students into post-secondary school, the military, or directly into the workforce with marketable skills. Participants in the program face multiple barriers to success that their JAG-K Career Specialist helps them overcome through a nationally accredited evidence-based model. In 2018, JAG-K students had a 98 percent graduation rate.
The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is a state affiliate of the national JAG program network which operates in 35 different states and territories. It is primarily funded through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant to the State of Kansas administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). In addition to school districts and DCF, JAG-K partners with the Kansas Department of Education. Other JAG-K funding sources include AT&T, John Deere, and Taco Bell.
To learn more about JAG-K, visit www.jagkansas.org, ‘Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas’ on Facebook, and on Twitter at @JAG_Kansas.