JAG students find career development more to do with development than career

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A coach encourages a CHS athlete during a track and field event.

A group of Jobs for America’s Graduate (JAG) students in Clinton High School is carrying on a tradition of “everyone belongs” in a special way — literally.

As part of the JAG career-development program coordinated by the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, a friendship class was added to the curriculum five years ago to give CHS students an opportunity to “look for things that need to be changed,” according to their teacher, Nancy Wood. The JAG students at the Clinton, S.C. high school decided they wanted everyone to belong.

This year’s JAG class at CHS created one of their opportunities for success and growth in the cafeteria. When they noticed a group of Special Education students who regularly sat together at their own table, the JAG kids decided to find out more about them and get to know them. So, the students went to their JAG specialist and talked about how they could help create more opportunities for the Special Education students to be part of the traditional school life.

The two groups began to sit with each other at lunch, and twice a week the JAG students would act as peer mentors for their new friends during a common class period. As the relationships grew, the JAG group discovered that the Special Education students were preparing for the Special Olympics. From there, it was no longer about working to include a group of students in school life; it was all about athletic training. And it was this mission that led to the deeper connection of the kids.

Twice a week, and with Coach Anson Cunningham’s help, six student coaches and six student athletes got together during a free class period to train. They worked together as a group on stretching and strengthening, and they worked in pairs to refine the athletes’ sports of track and the softball throw.

On March 18, their training was put to the test at the Special Olympics Area 5 Spring Games. This group of friends traveled to Presbyterian College Stadium, six competed, six to coached and volunteered, and all to support each other.

The student coaches are Zion Anderson, Monisha Cheeks, Jordan Jackson, Monique Kennedy, Derricki Light and Whitney Swindler.

The national JAG programs focuses on job preparation activities such as identifying interests and skills, testing workplace competencies, and academic-success coaching. Administered in South Carolina by DEW, the JAG program prepares South Carolina’s youth to be “College and Career Ready.” Student, parents, teachers and communities work together to create new opportunities for success in school and on the job.

Here is how local businesses can get involved in JAG:

  • Speak in a classroom – represent your business or field of expertise.
  • Provide a job shadow or internship opportunity in your workplace.
  • Volunteer at a student event to facilitate workshops, run leadership activities, or be a competitive event judge at the annual Career Development Conference.
  • Spread the word about JAG to your friends, coworkers and business affiliates
  • Take a personal stake in the success of South Carolina’s students by making a financial donation to ensure that the programs and services continue into the future.