Jobs for graduates program expands statewide

County was pilot for effort to keep students in school

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OLYMPIA — Clark County schools are seeing results from joining a national program to help students graduate, pursue higher education and get jobs. The program is now being rolled out statewide after being piloted in Clark County.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn announced the official launch of the Jobs for Washington’s Graduates program Thursday. The program assists high school students at high risk for dropping out by identifying graduation barriers. JWG is the state’s chapter of the Jobs for America’s Graduates program. The state is a full-fledged participant this year after a successful pilot program in 2010-2011.

Bridges Academy, a partner with the Clark County Skills Center, was a pilot site for the program. The academy targets and supports students who have severe credit deficiencies and works to keep them from dropping out of school.

Jill Neyenhouse, the program coordinator for Bridges Academy, said JWG helped achieve the academy’s biggest graduating class last year of 38 students, compared with 10 in 2009 and one in 2008.

During its pilot year Washington state served 472 students and achieved an 80 percent graduation rate among students enrolled in the program.

The JWG curriculum teacher at Bridges Academy, Kristen Rothwell, implements the program with a different focus for the students each week, such as career interests, learning styles, and goal-setting.

“Those goal-setting activities are especially important to our students … because they show students that they can be successful,” Neyenhouse said.

This year, Vancouver Public Schools will also participate in the program. In 2010 the district’s graduation rate was 64 percent, with an annual dropout rate of 5.6 percent, according to a report from OSPI. JWG aims to improve those rates by placing specialists in schools to identify barriers that keep students from graduating.

“The specialists interview students to determine barriers,” said Kathleen Lopp, assistant state superintendent for career and college readiness. JAG identified 35 possible barriers to success such as academic issues, low income, social struggles, behavioral problems, and excessive truancy. “Students in the program must have at least five barriers,” she said.

The program helps students struggling in school as well as those who have dropped out and wish to re-enter. The program also works to place graduates in jobs by working with local businesses, Lopp said.

“I had a graduate who came by last week. She wanted her portfolio because she had pieces in it she wanted to use to apply to jobs, so it has a lasting impact,” Neyenhouse said.

According to Lopp, Washington is the only state that offers technical education classes.

“There are 33 states that have JAG programs … and we’re the fastest-growing (state) program in the nation,” Lopp said. “We have 15 returning sites and we’re currently up to 34 sites now.”

Offering career and technical education classes delivers skills training to students, giving them better credentials when entering the work force, Lopp said. “We feel like we’re going to be a model for the nation in that.”