The Hays USD 489 school board approved a program Monday that would help at-risk students graduate and reach employment or post-secondary education goals.
The Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas program, which is also known as JAG-K, will begin at Hays High School this fall.
The program will cost the district $6,500, which is about 10 percent of the total cost of the program for one year. The rest of the cost is paid for through federal grant funds.
HHS Principal Martin Straub said it will take some extra effort from his staff to select students in time for a fall start, but he said the potential benefits far outweighs the effort and cost.
“It sounds too good to be true, but we have been able to talk to people in schools that you would say are tougher than Hays High that are saying that it is doing good things for their kids. It is doing good things for their community. I just don’t know what we have to lose,” Straub said.
The program helps students with remediation to help them graduate high school, works on career planning, and enhances leadership and job skills. Students visit workplaces and colleges, participate in a career club and perform 10 hours of community service.
The goal of the program is not only to help students graduate, but also to obtain full-time employment, enter the military or go on to post-secondary education. The program has an 89 percent success rate in students entering full-time employment, military or post-secondary education after high school. Post-secondary education or certification is a goal of the state’s new accreditation program.
If JAG-K students don’t graduate, the program works with them during the next year to earn their diplomas.
JAG-K students are enrolled in classes of 10 to 15 students during the school year, but the JAG-K specialists maintain contact with the students during the summer and for 12 months after graduation.
Straub estimated the first group enrolled in JAG-K might be small, maybe 25 or 30 students. However, the career specialist would have the capacity to work with up to 50 students.
Early intervention is important, Straub said. Although some programs choose to focus on juniors and seniors, Straub said he sees the greatest dropout rate among students who are 16 and no longer have to legally attend school. He said intervening with freshman or sophomores may reap the greatest returns from the program.
Hays High School has about an 87 percent graduation rate. New state accreditation standards have set a goal of a graduation rate of 95 percent. JAG-K had a 97 percent graduation rate for 2017.
Straub met with members of the Student Council to discuss graduation Monday. The class usually leaves an empty chair for any student that has passed away. Thankfully, the class of 2018 has not had any students pass away. However, the students noted they had fellow students missing who had dropped out.
“I thought it was very interesting that these high flyers said they remembered that a lot of their friends aren’t here,” Straub said. “They are alive, but they aren’t in school. They gave up or they had situations they couldn’t overcome or we just couldn’t give them enough individual attention.”
JAG-K is a national program with 68 programs in 33 school districts in the state of Kansas.
JAG-K reached out to Hays because it has no programs in northwest Kansas.
Straub said larger school districts in eastern Kansas have been using this program for years, noting northwest Kansas has needs, too.
“I think our students deserve some more help,” he said.