Great Bend Tribune, Oct. 13, 2020 Read the original article

Great Bend High School’s Jobs for America’s Graduates – Kansas students recently joined nearly 300 students from across the state “virtually” in the JAG-K Kansas Leadership Development Conference. Local JAG-K teachers Jennifer Hopkins and Jose Arias were joined by students Bryce Hopkins, Ashton Ensley, Marcos Piedra, Dakota Aumiller, Madison Carter, Katie Kuhlman, Ashley Reddig and Landen Hammeke. Students wore business attire and tuned in to the conference from the Great Bend Events Center.

The change of scenery, paired with their professional attire, set the stage for a successful day of leadership exploration and insight. Students heard from keynote speakers, including Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, entrepreneur and community leader SJ Hazim, Emmy award-winning broadcaster from ESPN Brenda VanLengen, and several other notable speakers, according to Andrea Bauer at Great Bend USD 428. 

JAG was founded 40 years ago to address inequalities and boost graduation rates among underserved communities and populations. In Kansas, 75% of JAG-K students are economically disadvantaged and 55% are students of color. The program partners with public schools to offer an elective class that provides academic and other positive supports to ensure students earn their diploma.

“One of the unique aspects of the JAG program is that we offer a full year of follow-up to students following their high school graduation,” Hopkins said. At present, she is working with 54 students, including students in follow-up. “This gives me the opportunity to stay in contact with them to ensure they are staying on the path they established for themselves while they were in the JAG program. I am able to be an additional resource to them to help navigate life after high school and the transition into adulthood.”

Challenges during COVID-19

Hopkins said this year has presented many struggles because of the pandemic, as demonstrated by the need to attend a virtual conference.

“From wearing masks, to not being able to bring in any outside guests to the classroom or not being able to take any field trips, JAG looks very different this year,” she said. “Even the ways in which we set up our seating arrangements – because of social distancing – has created challenges. However, these challenges are creating a vast amount of opportunities for students to practice their critical thinking skills and discover new ways of overcoming obstacles.”

Hopkins said she can’t send students out on job shadows this year due to COVID restrictions.

“However, I am actively seeking internships for my students. I am continually looking for employers that are willing to provide internships to high school juniors and seniors. I am also looking for employers that are willing to partner with me to provide a vast array of opportunities for my students. Although I am unable to bring guest speakers into the classroom, I would love to partner with employers that would be willing to provide a video (live or recorded) that I can then show to my students. Our employers are filled with a wealth of valuable information that my students need to hear. If an employer would like more information about the JAG program or what we have to offer, I would love to visit with them!”

One of the key elements of the JAG program is “student voice and choice,” Hopkins said. “Through Project Based Learning (PBL), students are given the opportunity to take control of their education and drive the ways in which they learn. One of our biggest PBLs we are doing this year is a Career Closet.”

The goal was to provide professional clothing to JAG students as they prepare for job interviews and other various professional settings, such as the leadership conference. Students began collecting professional clothing – including ties, belts, shoes, and other important accessories – from the community.

“To further help all of GBHS, and not just JAG students, we will expand our Career Closet to include all students throughout GBHS,” Hopkins said. “We are excited to establish our Career Closet here at the high school and provide essential resources desperately needed for all of our students.”

For now, the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped classes from meeting in person.

“We are very blessed here in our district to be able to hold all classes in-person,” Hopkins said. “However, if a student does get quarantined, we use Google Meets for them to join us during their class time. This allows students to remain engaged and stay on top of all of their work until they are able to return to class.”

For more information on a community partnership with JAG-K in Great Bend, email Jennifer Hopkins at jennifer.hopkins@jagkansas.org.