Next fall, Cardinal Community Schools and Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG) will partner to launch a program that will increase graduation rates, improve workforce skills, and help students successfully transition to life after high school. Up to 45 Cardinal High School juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to participate in iJAG which is offered during the school day, for academic credit. Students must face at least three significant barriers to success to be eligible for programming.

iJAG President and CEO, Laurie Phelan, says, “We are thrilled to welcome Cardinal Community Schools and Cardinal students to the iJAG family. We know we can make a difference for those kids who need a little extra support, a strong mentor, or an approach that is more hands-on than most traditional classrooms. Our job is to find out what students need to succeed and to help them access it. There are broad themes, of course, but our work looks different for every single kid who signs on to our roster.”

Phelan says iJAG provides an engaging mix of mentoring, small group instruction, project based learning, and real-world experience with employer partners like John Deere, Principal, JBS, and UnityPoint. The result, she says, is students who graduate with the hard and soft skills to begin a living-wage career or pursue post-secondary education or training that will lead to long-term self-sufficiency.

iJAG staff formally mentor students for 12 months after graduation helping with job and educational placements, guiding graduates through life challenges and celebrating with them when things go well. Even after students complete their postsecondary transition, they often maintain a strong relationship with their iJAG Specialist.

The program is paid for by a combination of public and private support, including annual funding from the Iowa Legislature, school districts, and iJAG’s private partners. The Legacy Foundation has been instrumental in the launch at Cardinal, providing the district a $33,750 grant to help fund the first year of programming. “Supporting the iJAG programming at Cardinal was an easy decision for us,” Genners states.  “We have already seen the impact demonstrated in other areas of Wapello County and are confident it can be replicated at Cardinal.”

iJAG is a 501(c)3 non-profit affiliate of Jobs for America’s Graduates. The organization assists students facing multiple barriers to success to graduate from high school and transition to continued education and careers through provision of counseling, mentoring, tutoring, career exploration and post-secondary planning. Since launching with six program sites in 1999, the organization has grown to 100 sites serving more than 4500 middle and high school students and recent graduates in Iowa and Illinois each year. Over its history, iJAG’s participants have overcome life challenges to achieve a collective graduation rate of 95%. One year after earning a diploma, more than 80% are in school, employed, or a combination of the two.