Being successful after high school, whether a graduate is college bound or directly entering the work force, requires many skills that aren’t always taught along with language, math, science or other core subjects.

For some students, the “soft skills” of staying poised and professional during a job interview, communicating successfully in the adult world, or navigating the process of enrolling in postsecondary education, may come naturally.

For others, there is the Jobs for America’s Graduates program, or JAG, started at Madison Consolidated High School in 2010, funded by River Valley Resources and WorkOne Southeast. 

The school-to-career program aims to keep at-risk juniors and seniors in school through graduation, giving them those soft skills they will need to be successful, whether they go on to college or into the work force.

JAG specialist Whitney Mathews said she has 42 students this year in half-day classes she leads – 29 seniors, many of whom are college-bound, and 13 juniors. Nearly 200 students have been through the program since the beginning, and earn credit for the class.

Students can attend one or two full years, and can start at the beginning or middle of their junior year or the beginning of their senior year.

The classes are required to take four field trips each year, one of which is a weeklong visit to Vincennes University, which pays for transportation, room and board for the students each year, Mathews said. Students are required to visit at least one postsecondary institution while in the program.

JAG students also are eligible for waivers for college application fees and also are able to take the SAT and/or ACT tests free of charge – a savings of $120, if they take both. They also are eligible for a $250 scholarship, but for that, they must complete 10 hours of community service before graduation, she said.

The program also offers career assessments to help students find what jobs or careers may suit them best. They receive resume-writing assistance and are required to complete a profile on LinkedIn, an online networking tool that can be especially useful for job candidates.

Along with exploring colleges and learning how to apply for scholarships, students also learn about the job market to find out which jobs will be most in demand in the near future; they learn employability skills, public speaking and how to prepare presentations. There also is instruction in entrepreneurship, writing skills and financial literacy, Mathews said.

Every year, the students participate in a regional Career Development Conference, where they are judged on those skills. Mathews said four students won first-place honors in individual competition: Josh Pearson, public speaking; Riley Motenko, outstanding senior; Lauren Medina, career presentation; and Johnny Hunt, cover design.

There also were four first-place honors for group projects, including Chapter Commercial, Chapter Blog and Chapter Brochure.

All of the winners will go to the state conference in Indianapolis next month, Mathews said.

The MCHS JAG program also was top in the region for follow up, which tracks the outcomes of its graduates for the full first year after they leave high school. The goal is to be sure the graduates are either employed full time, enrolled in school full time, or working and enrolled in school a year after they finished the program.

“That’s the main national performance measure” for the program, Mathews said. Graduates must meet with Mathews once a month throughout that year so she can track their progress. Upon completion, the graduates are eligible for $150; $200 if they are employed upon completion.

Students in the class last Friday said they have already seen the benefits of the program.

Medina said the class forces her “to think about what I’m going to do after high school.”

Gabe Stoll said without the class, he likely would never have filled out applications for college.

“I joined to get outside my comfort zone, which will help in college,” said Christian Brown.

“I’ve gained the confidence to talk to people,” said Corbin Hughes, who said he used to be much more introverted. “I’m able to talk to people a lot better, especially adults ... It’s definitely one of the more beneficial classes I’ve taken. It’s real world.”