By Andre LaFontant
For over 40 years, JAG’s 1.4 million students have achieved an average graduation rate of over 90%. This includes a graduation rate of 96% for the class of 2020, despite the various disruptions and hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone involved understands the positive results of JAG affiliation—from its Vice-Chair, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, to corporate sponsors such as McDonald’s, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, and IHG.
However, arguably no one understands the magic of the process at work better than former JAG Specialist and current Director of Partnerships for the national nonprofit organization, Niki Childers.
Mrs. Childers immediately lets the light of her passion shine, when provided the fortunate opportunity of meeting her. Her love for students drives her and truly exemplifies what is lovingly referred to as the “JAGfam” at its core.
“I embody the JAG mission, I’ve represented JAG in one capacity or another since 2013,” she begins. “One thing I loved about teaching in a JAG classroom was that we had the freedom and flexibility to really reach our students, wherever they were. The common goal beyond the classroom now is to build authentic relationships and put the needs of the students first.”
Speaking of love, Mrs. Childers is currently overseeing the ‘Lifting Our Voices for Equity’ (L.O.V.E) partnership program with IHG (Intercontinental Hotels Group) on behalf of JAG’s 39 State Affiliates. “We wanted to create a project where students could work together on identifying social justice issues that they’re facing or they’ve witnessed. From there, we are encouraging them to start thinking about how they can make a positive change through civic engagement and awareness,” explains Childers. “IHG shares this desire to further encourage those conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We have five target communities that IHG is working with directly. Whether they speak about the culture of inclusion at IHG or broader conversations, they commit to making representatives available for authentic connections to JAG programs at the local level. They act as a huge contributing factor to outcomes in the classroom and the surrounding communities.”
With a presence in 1,450 communities nationwide, Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) provides for over 76, 000 students and young adults with great promise across the country not only the ability to chart productive pathways towards graduation but also with the support necessary to prepare those students for a successful transition into professional life after high school.
Across its 39 State Affiliates, JAG students are identified by their schools as facing significant life challenges that may impede their ability to reach graduation day. From there, students enroll in a class led by a JAG Specialist.
Tasked with implementing the JAG Model – which emphasizes the mastering of 37 critical ‘Employability Skills’ and remediation assistance to reach graduation requirements – each JAG Specialist works directly with their students, providing support through Trauma-Informed Care while also building relationships with employers in local communities, so students can work alongside industry professionals, build critical networks, and practice showcasing the skill sets that employers seek in new hires.
With someone as talented as Niki Childers reveling in the power of relationship building, it is no surprise that her advice for fellow champions of education is to always be willing to “…share your gifts.” What she means by that is, “If there is something that you’re involved in within the community outside of your classroom, that you can bring to students and help them experience — whether it be activism or civic awareness — bring it to the classroom to share. It will be more authentic because it means something to you and children aren’t fools when it comes to feeling that out.”