JMG Program Supports Students in a Variety of Ways
DOVER-FOXCROFT/MAINE – Kathy Richards, a classroom specialist with the Jobs for Maine Graduates program at Foxcroft Academy, wants to help students find paths to rewarding, well-paying jobs. Richards said she took the “long and winding road” to her own college education, which was attained several years after graduating from Dexter Regional High School at age 16. She worked in special education in the Guilford school district for 17 years before becoming support staff for the Study Strategies program, and eventually helping to launch SAD 4’s Learning for Life program.
In January, 2016, Richards joined the JMG program at FA. JMG partners with public education and private businesses to offer results-driven solutions to ensure that all Maine students graduate, attain post-secondary credentials and pursue meaningful careers, she said.
“We do not want our students stuck in low-paying jobs that they don’t have a personal connection with,” Richards said. “For some people, they love being outdoors and that’s their passion, so I would not try to get that kid into an office job. I would try to help them find a pathway to a job that allows them to work where they feel the best. If you have a job where you get up in the morning and actually want to go in to work, that’s what we want for our kids. And we want them earning a living wage.”
Students learn communication and reasoning skills, conflict resolution, and financial literacy in addition to career exploration. “With the upper classmen, we go into more depth, so we actually find a career path from where they are now to the career they might be interested in in the future,” Richards said. Students learn what sort of credentials would be required, what internships are available, how to write resumes, and more.
Much of the learning is game-based or project-based, and students also do a classroom presentation, “so it’s very interactive,” said Richards. “At the start of this whole thing, when we thought we were looking at a two-week shutdown, we thought, ‘sure, we can shift things around, get the research and that sort of thing out of the way.’ Normally, students would be showing their slide shows to the class so that everyone would get the information. It’s an exposure thing. I haven’t figured out how to let everyone see everything yet, so I’m working on that. Now that we are transitioning for the long haul, I’m mapping out how to still cover the information and help them learn those skills. Without as much interaction, it’s a struggle.”
Google Classroom and Google Hangouts are helpful, Richards said. She communicates with her students mainly through email, and with phone calls if students don’t reply to emails.
“Every student at FA has an iPad issued to them, and FA has put hot spots around the region. If students drive to those hot spots in Monson, Harmony, Dover-Foxcroft, Charleston and possibly Sebec, the iPad automatically connects so they don’t even have to log in.
“I just want my students to stay in touch, and I think every teacher feels that way.,” she said. “When I don’t hear back from a student by email or Google Classroom, it’s kind of like being an air traffic controller, watching those blips out there, and when one disappears, it probably isn’t good.”
Going beyond academics
With schools shut down somewhat abruptly, JMG providers were concerned about more than the logistics of distance learning.
“We have 143 programs across all 16 counties and we serve a large, large number of students every year – 11,000 this year,” said Matt St. John, statewide director of operations at JMG. “We are really fortunate to have great specialists who are very student centered. This is not only about helping students academically, but with emotional and social support.
“When this crisis first hit, our first response was, ‘What are some things we can do to help our students right now?’ Of the students we serve, one of the populations we target are those who are economically disadvantaged, so we knew food insecurity was going to be a major barrier for a lot of our students and their families,” he said.
Fortunately, JMG has spent 25 years building partnerships. “Unum was the first to donate and help us with the cause of getting as many local supermarket gift cards as we could to provide some food insecurity relief,” St. John said. Soon, other partners joined the effort. “We raised $150,000 and the Harold Alfond Foundation matched that, so we had a total of $300,000 that we were able to disperse really quickly to get those Hannaford gift cards out.”
Each school-based JMG program was given 20 grocery gift cards. “Our specialists worked with our schools to identify the students and families most in need,” St. John said, adding that this would not have been possible without private-sector partners stepping up.“As this crises progresses, so much is unknown and there is uncertainty about the impacts it is going to have,” said St. John. “We are going to continue to hopefully speak to some of our partners and figure out other alternative ways to help our students. If there are other ways to support our kids throughout this crisis, we are going to find those ways to help them.”