The Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist at Seymour High School may not consider herself a hero.
There’s plenty of evidence, however, to prove she is just that, including her recent nomination as one of The Tribune’s five Hometown Heroes.
Celeste Bowman of Reddington was nominated by some of the students who have completed the JAG program and successfully made their way into adulthood.
Jobs for America’s Graduates is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping high school students of promise who have experienced challenging or traumatic life experiences achieve success. There are currently 135 JAG programs in place in high schools across the state, and Brownstown Central High School will become the second in the county to have the program this fall.
One of Bowman’s former students, Peyton Phillips, said besides working at the school and being in charge of JAG, Bowman runs the family farm with her husband, Steve.
“… and she also keeps up with her former students and runs the pantry at the school,” Phillips wrote in her nomination.
Phillips said Bowman is the whole reason she decided to go college to study agriculture.
“She is a wonderful woman who has helped so many students,” she said. “She keeps up to date with her students even after high school. She also works at Jackson County Learning Center.”
The JAG program has been operating a food pantry at Seymour High School for several years.
Even though Bowman said she doesn’t feel like a hero, it’s clear to see after talking with her that she is excited about her work and watching her former students succeed in life.
“I love young people, and I think every young person deserves an opportunity to reach for their goals and their dreams,” the 53-year-old Brownstown native said.
“At the time they start JAG, they may not know what those dreams are, but we figure that out,” she said. “I like helping them make a plan to get there and then providing them with whatever assistance they need. If they want to go to college, that’s a huge system to maneuver through, so I like to just be able to give them that hand up.”
Her former students become independent and make their own way in the world.
Bowman said she has one student who is in medical school and a second one who became a JAG specialist herself.
“That’s satisfying,” Bowman said. “She’s doing a fantastic job.”
Many of her former students stop by the school to visit her, and she remembers a conservation with one who found work in a local factory.
“He graduated two or three years ago, and he told me, ‘You can tell people that if it wasn’t for JAG, I would be in jail or dead,’” Bowman said.
She said she told him he did it himself.
“He did the work he had to do,” Bowman said. “We just gave him the tools.”
The program is unique in that the specialists have to talk to graduates once a month for at least a year after graduation to make sure they are on the right path.
“We have to make sure that transition in life is going successfully because that first year out of high school can be hard,” Bowman said. “There’s a lot of adulting that has to happen.”
The yearlong program meets for an hour and 10 minutes each school day and involves multiple components.
“We have guest speakers come in to share career opportunities and career paths,” Bowman said. “We do a lot of field trips to different employers to help students see what is out there and what it means to work in a factory because most people have incorrect concepts about factory work.”
Students learn how to write a résumé and a cover letter and how to work on banking and literacy skills.
“We talk about insurance,” Bowman said. “Insurance is a big thing.”
In 2014 and 2015, Bowman was named an Outstanding JAG Specialist by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development for her efforts in increasing graduation rates and participation among her students.
She’s more proud of awards many of her students have won at the district and state levels in the past. They compete in several categories, including financial literacy, employability, résumé writing, public speaking and critical thinking.
Bowman began her career by teaching one year at Evansville North High School before moving back to Jackson County to marry, raise children and work.
“I went to work for Central Pharmaceuticals,” she said.
While there, she dealt with OSHA, EPA and fire code compliance.
After leaving the company, now known as Lannett, Bowman spent 13 years teaching preschool students at Reddington Christian Church and raising her young children.
“I decided I wanted to do something different, so I started substitute teaching at Seymour High School,” she said.
While doing so, the JAG specialist position came open, and she decided to take it.
She and her husband, who works at Cummins Engine Co., have always owned and operated the farm.
“We work so we could farm,” she said.
In the early years, the Bowmans were grain farmers, but now, they grow a variety of produce and sell some of it at the Seymour Area Farmers Market. They also raise hogs and beef to sell by the half and whole.
In May 2016, Bowman was hired to be the market manager of the farmers market. She held that title for two years.
She and her husband had being selling at the market for years before the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce and other local ag leaders made the decision to give it some structure and organization.
“I thought the idea was fantastic because it could only benefit the market and Seymour,” Bowman said of improving the way the market operates.
“I think it has really grown, and I think the variety of local goods that are there for the community is fantastic,” she said. “I love the variety we have and just the local produce. It’s so much better. It tastes better because it is picked when it is ripe.”