By Jessie Wagoner
When Katelyn Loecker walked into her classroom at McPherson High School last week, she officially kicked off the third year of the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program at McPherson High School. In just three short years, the JAG program is seeing tremendous success among its students.
The role of JAG is to partner with students to help them overcome identified barriers, graduate from high school and prepare for college or career pathways that will help them reach their full potential as leaders. This is done in a number of ways. There is a national JAG curriculum that is used by all JAG teachers, but there is also a good deal of community partnership at work. The class regularly has speakers come in so they can learn about different careers and educational opportunities. Prior to COVID-19, the students also went out into the community to perform community service.
“We are always looking for community service opportunities if anyone in the community is needing help,” Loecker said. “We are hoping to be able to get out in the community more, this year.”
Loecker is one proud teacher. She is quick to point out the student success she has seen over the past two years. She had several students get jobs this year through the mock interview process they took part in during class. Some students are also now employed at companies they toured as part of the class.
“Of our graduates, close to half have gone on to school, college or trade school,” Loecker said. “The other half has gone to the workforce directly.”
Many JAG students participate in the program for more than one year. Loecker says the program has a high retention rate. Once students enroll, she usually sees them back in class the next year. She attributes much of this to the relevance of the classwork. Students know the work they are doing in class is something they will have to do in adulthood. They work on resumes, interview skills and writing cover letters.
“They are practicing and developing real-world skills,” Loecker said. “It is pretty rewarding to see the progress.”
The students aren’t the only ones seeing success. Loecker herself recently received a shining star award for the region from JAG Kansas. The award is given to those program leaders who go above and beyond for the students and program. The award is fitting, considering Loecker is always looking for new ways to engage with students to help keep them excited about JAG.
While the award and recognition for her efforts is nice, for Loecker the real payoff is in watching her students grow and succeed. She has been able to watch them develop skills they will need in the future and meet the goals they have set for themselves. She even follows up with students after graduation, checking in with them to see if they need help and offering words of encouragement as they move forward.
“I’m 27 and I joke that I have like 40 to 50 kids,” Loecker said. “It is a lot of fun and very rewarding. Just to see the growth in these students when they enter the program and then when they get to graduation. Their motivation, for some maybe initially they didn’t care about school, but after a semester they are getting excited to tell me about a test score. It is a long-lasting relationship.”
Loecker has big plans for year three of JAG. She encourages the community to keep an eye out for upcoming events.
“Keep looking at our stuff,” Loecker said. “We have new and exciting things this semester.”