Brownstown Central to add JAG program to lineup



Desiree Steinkamp exudes confidence in situations most people don’t.

The 2013 Seymour High School graduate excels at public speaking and has given presentations in front of some pretty affluent audiences, including former Indiana governor and current U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Steinkamp has a way of sparking interest and excitement in others and has a passion for helping high school students discover their strengths, work on their weaknesses and reach their full potential to find success after high school.

That’s why she was chosen to implement the national Jobs for America’s Graduates program at Brownstown Central High School this year.

JAG is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing high school dropouts among students with barriers to graduation and employment. Those barriers can be anything from socioeconomic status to lack of family support to low self-confidence and motivation.

Through community service, job shadowing, workplace tours, classroom speakers, college visits and other activities, JAG helps students graduate and transition into becoming adults.

“JAG is going to assist students in seeking the opportunities that exist after high school, whether that be employment, enrollment in postsecondary education or enlisting in the military,” Steinkamp said. “We don’t gear it toward just college or just the workforce.”

The program will launch in Brownstown’s second trimester beginning Nov. 4. Steinkamp currently is conducting interviews and looking for up to 40 students who would be a good fit for the class.

“I’ve been reaching out to those students, sitting down having one-on-one conversations with them,” she said. “So far, students have been very receptive.”

Steinkamp is accepting personal referrals of candidates along with suggestions from teachers and staff.

Most students she talks to have heard about JAG but don’t know what it is.

JAG focuses on each student’s unique obstacles and needs both in and out of the classroom and provides opportunities for them to take ownership of their futures.

“It’s one-on-one and really customized to the student,” Steinkamp said. “We look at the students we have and gear the school year to their needs.”

Lessons include career development, job attainment skills such as résumés, job searches, interviews and applications, maintaining a job, basic skills in verbal and written communication and workplace math, leadership and team building, public speaking and giving presentations and personal skills.

The program is replacing Brownstown’s iGrad program, which is similar to JAG. After regional funding for iGrad was not renewed for this school year, administrators began to look for something to take its place in offering support to students. They decided JAG was the answer.

“The staff support is amazing so far,” Steinkamp said. “Everyone is definitely onboard for providing as many services as they can for the students.”

That support makes all the difference, said Seymour High School JAG specialist Celeste Bowman, who has been in her position for seven years.

Seymour’s JAG program has been in place since 2011. The school also offers a JAG class for bilingual students. Success rates are high with most students pursuing postsecondary education, landing jobs or entering the military after graduation.

In JAG, specialists take the time to get to know their students and work individually with them to figure out what they want to do and where they want to go in life, Bowman said.

The relationship between the students and the JAG specialist is another important part of the program’s success.

“I may not see all of my students all of the time, but I think they all still know that I’m here, that at any time they can reach out, they can call me and they’ve got that support,” Bowman said.

One of the program’s components involves a one-year followup period where specialists check in with the students every month after they graduate.

“I remember when I graduated from high school, that transition into life, for me, it was a transition into college, it was a challenge,” Bowman said. “I went from Brownstown to Indiana University. That was a huge transition, and even if you are staying in the same town, just transitioning from high school to the workforce.”

Bowman and Steinkamp are not called teachers because the program is student led and student driven.

“The students really take ownership of the program, and they take ownership of everything the program does,” Bowman said. “I think that feeling of ownership really encourages them to invest their time and energy and efforts into it being successful and into the students being successful.”

Steinkamp is one of Seymour JAG’s success stories. She was actively involved in the class her senior year, even winning the state JAG public speaking contest.

A year and a half ago, Steinkamp became the JAG specialist at Jennings County High School, allowing her to teach the class having experienced JAG from both perspectives.

“Being in JAG, it gave me obviously a bit of relevancy of saying, ‘Hey, I’m kind of the living, breathing product of being involved in a JAG program, and these are the supports I gained,'” Steinkamp said. “For me, I think the program can be summed up by relevancy and relationships.”

Programs like JAG, FFA and 4-H are important to developing confidence and the ability to network, Steinkamp said.

“They give students the real-life experiences that are essential to developing into positive adults one day,” she said.

Even though students in JAG all have some kind of barrier they face that may prevent them from graduating, getting into college or getting a job, Steinkamp said it’s not easy to identify what those barriers are.

“I was a student in JAG you would see walking through the hallways and you wouldn’t necessarily know some of the barriers I had,” she said. “You have students from all walks of life. You have students that are wildly successful and some that need a little extra boost from time to time.”

But it’s that diversity that helps students learn how to work together, she said.

“When you enter the workforce or go to college, you’re going to have a mashup of people that you need to be able to not only relate to but communicate with and function as a team with and all of those principles that define success when dealing with diverse populations,” she said.

Bowman said she is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Steinkamp again, but this time as a fellow JAG specialist. They hope to partner on projects to further the impact of JAG in Jackson County.

“We might be rivals on the football field or basketball court, but in JAG, I’d like to see us become a family,” Bowman said.

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