Over the past few weeks, schools across Kansas and throughout the U.S. have held graduation ceremonies, culminating possibly the strangest and most challenging 14 months in the history of American public education.

Teachers and administrators have worked to adapt to virtual learning, to keep students engaged, and to meet the many social/emotional needs that resulted from the pandemic.  

Unfortunately, schools are seeing some pretty sobering reports on academic achievement, attendance, graduation, and grade completion. The numbers are showing that the U.S. will have to deal with a pandemic of dropouts. They have been forced to list as “unable to contact” or “unaccounted for” thousands of students, many of whom were of graduation age this spring.  

I am pleased to report that amid the largest surge of dropouts in U.S. history, Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) kept students engaged, on track to graduate, and on the path to success.  

JAG-K’s graduation rate for 2020, when COVID-19 was first sweeping across the U.S., was 96.03%. We expect that when graduation rates for the current school year are final, we will see a similarly high rate of success for the class of 2021.

JAG-K staff worked tirelessly to keep in touch with its students, to help them overcome whatever obstacles might prohibit them from succeeding at school during the pandemic. JAG-K programs statewide reported an astoundingly low 3.9% “unable to contact” rate in March of 2021. 

How did JAG-K do it? 

Fortunately, the multi-year, in-school program for students in grades 7-12 was positioned to respond to the closure of schools and the switch to virtual about as well as could be achieved. Each program is directed by a Career Specialist who helps students overcome barriers through a variety of learning strategies, including project-based learning and remote learning tools. Our program is designed to work effectively both inside and outside the traditional classroom. 

Specifically, JAG-K Career Specialists:  

  • Checked frequently on students’ wellbeing – did they have their basic needs met, were they coping with the emotional effects of the shutdown?
  • Took inventory of the tools at the students’ disposal – did they have their school books, access to computer with internet, ability to receive messages from teachers, etc.?
  • Communicated resources available to them and their families – financial relief, food donations, mental/emotional counseling, etc.
  • Ensured that all students, including seniors, were meeting the requirements to successfully complete the school year.

 Participants in the JAG-K program face various barriers to success. Without additional assistance, many of these students may lack the resources and support to graduate high school, or to transition into post-secondary school, the military, or directly into the workforce with marketable skills. Faced with such barriers, missing the structure and daily encouragement they find at school could have been particularly challenging to them. 

But as the numbers come in, it is apparent that JAG-K was up to the task of helping students navigate the pandemic.  

Despite all the obstacles, I am proud of our JAG-K team for demonstrating resilience and the effectiveness of the evidence-based JAG model. The model has worked for 40 years, throughout the country, and now it has proven its success in helping students navigate a pandemic.

Thank you for all you do in support of JAG-K!

Chuck Knapp, President/CEOJobs for America’s Graduates-Kansaschuck.knapp@jagkansas.org