Jobs For America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) is linking up with the state’s correctional facility for juveniles to help prepare justice-involved youth for bright futures.
A new JAG-K program located within the Kansas Juvenile Corrections Complex (KJCC) is bringing the evidence-based curriculum and concepts to a unique population. JAG-K has a presence in 75 middle schools and high schools across the state. Gov. Laura Kelly, who sits on the national board of JAG, believed the program could work in a correctional setting and helped forge the partnership between JAG-K and Lawrence Gardner High School, the educational program directed within KJCC by Smoky Hill Education Service Center.
The JAG-K program at KJCC is beginning to bear fruit. In December, 13 students involved with JAG-K within the facility graduated high school. JAG-K President and CEO Chuck Knapp spoke at the graduation ceremony. (Link to video from the graduation at KJCC) He said the skills fostered in JAG-K aid students in the next phase of life.
“Many students lack self-confidence and direction,” Knapp said. “Once they get into a JAG-K program, they learn they have great potential and start to do things they never thought they could.”
With a population of about 140 residents, KJCC is the state’s only secure facility for young people adjudicated by Kansas courts as juvenile offenders. Responsible for delivering the JAG-K program in the facility is career specialist Morgan Godinet. She began working with a handful of female residents in early 2022. The program expanded to serve male residents in the fall of 2022, eventually growing to 30 enrollees.
“The students have been awesome. They understand that when it came down to it, it is all about them improving themselves,” Godinet said. “My job is just continually speaking positivity to them and listening to what their dreams are. We’re working to improve their opinion of themselves and what they can accomplish. Sometimes they can’t even think about what they are capable of. But once you get them thinking positively, they can begin to make their dreams a reality.”
As one would expect, a JAG-K program within a correctional facility differs in some respects from one in a traditional school. The students can’t participate in some of the typical activities of a JAG-K program such as field trips, job shadows and apprenticeships. They have few in-person guest speakers. Godinet focuses the program on academic remediation and basic employment skills.
“We’re doing things like building resumes, writing cover letters, filling out job applications and learning how to effectively interview,” Godinet said. “Developing an understanding and a comfort level with the things that go into getting and keeping a job will develop their confidence.”
Unlike a career specialist in a traditional school program, Godinet is not permitted to maintain relationships with her students after they leave KJCC. She must entrust their follow-up to JAG-K’s Transitions Services program, which serves JAG-K participants who move to a community where the traditional program is not available.
“Some of the students are 19, 20 years old when they leave KJCC,” Godinet said. “They are ready to be adults. But they must have the support system in order to succeed. Transitions Services plays a really key role in helping these students find their place and their direction after they are released.”
Megan Milner, Superintendent of KJCC, said a large part of ‘success’ for justice-involved youth is to find a career path with a sustained livable wage.
“This partnership with JAG-K provides an additional opportunity to meet the needs of the young men and women served at KJCC,” Milner said. “Not only does the program provide connections with positive role models, but JAG-K also supports and provides crucial pathways for our youth to exit the juvenile justice system and stay free from future involvement.”
The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is a state affiliate of the national JAG program network which operates in 38 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 ADM, AT&T, Evergy, Goldstein Charitable Trust, John Deere, Kansas Gas Service, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas Insurance Department, the Kansas State Bank Commissioner, Stormont Vail Health, Synchrony Financial, the Taco Bell Foundation, the City of Topeka, United Way of the Plains and Walmart.
To learn more about JAG-K, visit www.jagkansas.org, ‘Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas’ on Facebook, and on Twitter at @JAG_Kansas.