Jag-K students must complete 10 hours of community service each semester. The organization frequently visits Homestead Assisted Living & Memory Care of Eudora, where they play bingo with residents.

After over two decades working as a probation officer, Dana Chance noticed many juvenile offenders had one thing in common: they didn’t finish high school and regretted it.

That’s why Chance began Jag-K – Jobs for America’s Graduates in Kansas — as an elective at the high school this year.

The initiative works to ensure every student graduates high school while learning employability skills, blue-collar work and money management. 

Chance, who previously worked in Kansas City, Missouri, said one of her primary goals was to open students’ eyes to different ways in thinking about their futures — which does not always include college — and assist students in getting their diplomas.

“I want to see kids succeed who may be following a nontraditional path,” she said. “I want them to get the skills and the attention they need in high school to graduate and be successful.”

Jag-K helps students who have had to overcome specific obstacles or barriers throughout their lives but is also open to students who “need it, want it and can benefit from it,” Chance said.

Each student who applies goes through an interview process in order to join. Each student must also earn 10 hours of community service throughout the semester.

Chance, a career specialist at the school and a licensed social worker, said her teaching style utilizes positive reinforcement. She encourages students who make straight Ds because that still means they can graduate.

“One of the most challenging parts is a lot of these students haven’t felt successful in school,” Chance said. “So my job is to get kids motivated and inspire them so that they can be successful and feel successful in a classroom setting.”

Chance said she lives by the motto, “student voice, student choice.” Her students influence the class’s curriculum and make up the career association, where the students compete in national Jag-K employability competitions. One competition requires students to submit a resume, cover letter and complete a job interview.

The students also frequently hear from guest speakers and tour employment facilities such as the fire department or Peaslee Tech.

Junior Tyler Benoit originally joined because he did not know what he wanted to do for work after high school. Through Jag-K, Benoit became interested in computer-aided design software for architecture and will begin classes through Peaslee Tech in August.

“I felt like I could do that,” Benoit said. “Jag-K helped me figure out exactly what being in that career field would mean and what responsibilities I would have. It gave me the opportunity to go down that career path.”

For president and senior Kaylynn Coffin, Jag-K is a place to network, learn about different career paths, make friends and make plans that will ensure success after graduating high school.

“I would recommend Jag-K for anyone,” Coffin said. “It’s a really great opportunity and honestly a lot of fun. Jag-K is really for anyone.”

Reach reporter Jenna Barackman at eudoratimes@gmail.com.

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