The JAG program teaches students how to succeed in life

The goal of the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program at Arthur F. Middle School is to teach students how to be successful in life. This includes in school, their community and the workforce.

Components taught to them include career development, leadership development, civic awareness, social awareness and fundraising, said Connie Bell, a JAG specialist at the school. And with each component, they must offer activities that serve the community.

JAG’s mission is to transition students from middle school to high school, then college and beyond with career readiness skills, communication skills, teamwork skills, problem solving skills and critical thinking skills – everything the workforce is looking for.

Eighth grade students Jemari Earthly, 13, president, and Rihanna Veal, 14, vice president are among 60 JAG students who have benefited. Earthly is a state member and Veal is a state vice president.

“It’s a great way to get the workforce started early,” Earthly said. “It can help me if I have leadership skills, teamwork skills, communication skills – all the skills needed. It can help me in the job market.”

He aspires to become a software engineer and at the recent annual Spring Career Day sponsored by JAG Earthly, he spoke with representatives from RoyOMartin, a local manufacturer of wood products. He discovered that their company also employs software engineers.

Since Veal wants to help people, she spoke with a nurse practitioner.

More than 17 vendors attended the fair, and students were able to meet with representatives from various local businesses, organizations, and colleges to learn about different careers and learn what kind of education is needed to pursue those careers.

“We also learned that you can volunteer for work before you get hired,” said Earthly, who volunteers at a hospice.

“Students are building a resume that can speak for itself,” Bell said. “Once they get to high school, they can have a resume listing their accomplishments and activities that they can present to potential employers. They’re equipped and prepared.”

Some of Bell’s students from last year who are high school freshmen are already working, but would she rather they waited to get jobs until they were at least in 10th grade.

Requirements include finding a college they are interested in and completing projects on black history and potential careers. Earthly researched Florida A&M University while Veal researched Texas Southern University. Other projects include those on black history and potential careers. At the end of the program, they earn high school credits.

Community service is also a big part of JAG.

“Not only are they learning to work at a young age, but they are learning to serve and serve their community,” Bell said.

Some community service projects they have done include a sock drive for homeless veterans, a canned food drive, donating school supplies to elementary schools, giving cards to Summit Nursing Home residents, as well as a community clean-up and a walk at the Acadian Village.

The beautification of the campus is also part of their activities. They look after a school garden and help clean the cafeteria after each shift.

They also do “random acts of kindness,” such as giving teachers gift bags and candy and showing support for other staff.

Students come up with so many project ideas that they can’t reach them all, but try to do as many as they can, Bell said.

“Giving back to your community is the most important thing,” Earthly said. “Always keep your community clean. Make sure you’re always there to help each other.”

Earthly was recently selected as one of two young recipients of the Alexandria Human Relations Commission’s Spirit of Community Awards. Darrius Davidson, a student at Peabody Magnet High School, is the other recipient.

Bell’s nomination form indicated that Earthly had organized a community walk in the Acadian village last year. He enjoys serving and helping others with the programs of his church, Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.

JAG students from Arthur F. Middle School clean up the school garden as part of their campus beautification project.

Earthly got involved with JAG when he was in seventh grade, but due to the pandemic, they weren’t able to interact with others and do the activities they do now.

“But this year has changed a lot,” he said. “We were able to bring guest speakers here and talk to you and talk about their careers,” he said. “We learned a lot about careers.”

For Bell, it is important that students know how to GNAP. It stands for Greet, Name, Affiliation and Purpose. They automatically know how to use GNAP with AFS campus visitors.

To broaden their outlook, students take field trips to local colleges and businesses. Bell also takes them out to eat so they know how to present themselves in public, which is very important to Bell.

“I said I felt like it should be in every school in every district and every state because it keeps students off the streets,” JAG’s Earthly said.

Students at Arthur F. Smith Middle School distribute gift bags to teachers as part of their random acts of kindness.

Once they leave middle school, Bell tries to get them into the high school JAG program. If they cannot enter, they can re-register later.

Through the program, students learn about GPAs, dual enrollment gets help preparing for the ACT. They are also informed of scholarship opportunities.

“We equip these students with everything they need for the future and to succeed. They know the difference between a Jumpstart and TOPS degree. We make sure to equip them with everything they need through this JAG program” , she said.

The JAG curriculum is empowerment-focused and makes students feel like they’re part of something, Bell said. “It’s designed for students to take ownership and be accountable. Ownership because they’re part of something. Responsibility because they’re saying, ‘Hey, I’m at JAG. I matter. I am ready to lead a good successful life. ‘”

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