Eleven Seymour High School students involved in the bilingual Jobs for America’s Graduates program chose to participate in the district Career Development Conference.
Two of them earned first-place honors and advance to the state conference.
Carina Muñoz emerged victorious as the district’s outstanding senior, and senior Dayana Ceballos won in the creative solutions competition.
This is only the third year of the bilingual JAG program at Seymour High School, and it’s the only one of its kind among the 135 JAG programs in the state.
JAG is a state-based national nonprofit organization that helps high school students who have experienced challenging or traumatic life experiences achieve success through graduation. The workforce preparation program helps them learn in-demand employability skills and provides a bridge to postsecondary education and career advancement opportunities, according to the organization’s website.
Belitzabeth Vazquez, specialist for the bilingual JAG program, said she had a student win at district and qualify for state in the first year, but no one else has qualified until this year.
“This has been a really good opportunity for them, for everybody in the Latino community to realize it doesn’t matter if they have a language barrier. They can compete, they could go forward, they could go beyond their limits because they can do it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of challenges they have. Everybody can do it. It’s just having that will, that drive.”
At the district conference Jan. 25 at Ivy Tech Community College in Lawrenceburg, Muñoz was one of seven from the region competing for the outstanding senior honor.
Beforehand, she had to submit a résumé, an application, three letters of recommendation, a two-page single-spaced typed essay and proof of college acceptance.
In the essay, she had to list three reasons why she is involved in JAG, how she will use JAG in the future, struggles she has gone through in life and her future plans.
That allowed her to explain why she joined JAG at the beginning of the school year.
“I talked about how I had more confidence because I’m secretary of this class, but before, I never would have done anything like that. I wouldn’t have even tried,” Muñoz said.
She also wrote about a lesson that Vazquez taught that has stuck with her.
“I chose the box of crayons,” Muñoz said. “It’s where we’re all different colors, but when we work together, we can create a bigger picture.”
The day of the competition, Muñoz and the other seniors were interviewed by the judges one at a time. Those lasted five minutes apiece.
With 30 seconds remaining, Muñoz said she was asked what makes her stand out from the other competitors.
“I froze for a second. I laughed and I said, ‘Well, I was just in the waiting room with them, and they are really great,’” she said. “I stopped and thought for a second and listed four different things, and then the time was up. I got up and shook everyone’s hand and walked out.”
During an awards program, the outstanding senior honor was the last one announced. The names of students receiving honorable mention were announced, and then Muñoz’s name came up as the winner. She received a medal and $250.
“When they didn’t say my name (among the honorable mention honorees), it took me a second to realize, ‘Oh, oh!’” Muñoz said. “It was great because I did put in a lot of hard work, and I was pretty proud.”
At state March 15 in Indianapolis, the winner will receive a $1,000 scholarship. Vazquez said Muñoz will compete against nearly a dozen other seniors.
“I feel super-excited, super-happy for her,” Vazquez said. “She was super-shy, not really talkative (earlier in the school year), and with this opportunity now, she could move forward, she could go above and beyond.”
Ceballos had only been involved in JAG for a week before the district conference. The class needed someone to compete in creative solutions and thought she would be the perfect person because she has an interest in engineering.
The day of the competition, the eight students could pick three of six items to make a slingshot and then use it to drop candy into a bucket.
Ceballos chose two pencils, two paper cups and two rubber bands.
While practicing, just 10 minutes before going in front of the judges, her project broke.
“I asked if I could have more materials, but they told me I wasn’t able,” she said. “My mind started to work on it, ‘So OK, this is broke. What can I do?’ I did the same thing a couple of times, and I saw in the original way to shoot, it was not going to work, so what I did is change the angle to shoot. It worked, and I thought, ‘I can do this. I just have to make a base,’ so that’s what I did.”
During the interview with the judges, she had to answer four questions and had three tries to get candy in the bucket.
Even though she didn’t drop the candy in the bucket, her final attempt went the farthest. None of the other competitors’ candy went in the bucket, either.
Vazquez said what made Ceballos stand out is telling the judges she was still successful and was a winner because she overcame the slingshot breaking beforehand and went the farthest in her three tries.
“They are watching you. They are questioning your confidence,” Ceballos said. “Whenever I went and sat down and they asked me (if she was successful), I just think for me personally, I won because my first goal was to shoot. The other competitors said no because of this and that.”
Plus, when asked if she had an opportunity to use other supplies, would she do it, she was the only one who said no.
“Just a little bit more time to think better about it and make better results, that’s the only thing you need, and you can do it,” she said.
Her positivity and confidence shined.
“I was so happy and proud because I didn’t really think about winning,” Ceballos said. “I know I’m not the best in English. All of (the other competitors) were native speakers, so English is their first language. It isn’t mine. I’m trying my best, I’m trying to improve myself, and I was hoping the best for me, for my class. I was representing all Latino students here. I was hoping the best, and I was hoping to make proud of my people.”
She won $100 and advances to state, where she will have a different project to tackle.
After high school, Muñoz plans to attend Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus to study elementary education and work toward a master’s degree in counseling, and Ceballos is interested in studying industrial engineering and veterinary medicine.
Both give a lot of credit to JAG for helping them make their postsecondary choices.
“It’s not just a class where you’re sitting and doing bookwork. We actually have discussions, we talk and we’re equals in here, and it really helps you prepare for your future,” Muñoz said. “Counseling wasn’t even on my list until I was in here, and I realized it was something that I wanted to do.”
Ceballos saw JAG as an opportunity to work toward college so she could become a professional.
“My counselor asked me why did I want to get involved in this class, and I told him I want to make a pathway for my little brother because he’s 7 years old and younger than me, so I want to be a role model for him,” she said. “I think this is the best way to do it.”
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For information about Seymour High School Jobs for America’s Graduates, search for Seymour HS JAG on Facebook.
For information about Indiana JAG, visit in.gov/dwd/jag.htm
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Seymour High School’s bilingual Jobs for America’s Graduates program had 11 students participate in the district Career Development Conference on Jan. 25 in Lawrenceburg.
Carina Muñoz placed first for the district’s outstanding senior.
Dayana Ceballos placed first in creative solutions.
Angela Peña, Jhonatan Barradas and Sarah Montero placed third for their entrepreneurship plan.
The program placed third for its chapter brochure.