August 18, 2023 (cross-posted from the Rural Schools Collaborative)
Recently, Dr. Annah Rogers, GRAD Partnership Coordinator for the Black Belt Region, had the opportunity to visit with students and faculty at the Hale County College and Career Academy (HCCCA) to learn more about their work promoting student success through their JAG (Jobs for Alabama’s Graduates) program. The HCCCA is located on the edge of historic Greensboro, AL and is led by director Dr. Marlon Murray.
The HCCCA provides career and technical education to students from Greensboro and Hale County High Schools. Students can take courses including Welding, Health Sciences, Cosmetology, JAG, and more. When Dr. Murray took over as director of the HCCCA in the Fall of 2022, he saw the benefits of the JAG course of study but noticed that the program was underutilized. According to Dr. Murray, “JAG identifies and provides educational support and success strategies for Alabama’s highest at-risk students, in hopes of preventing student’s from dropping out of high school”. This aligns perfectly with the mission of the GRAD Partnership, which aims to support schools in their use of high quality student success systems to ensure that all students are graduating on-time and ready for college or a career. By partnering with the GRAD Partnership Coordinator and school counselors at Greensboro and Hale County High Schools, Dr. Murray and his team are now identifying students for JAG by looking at those who flag on any of the four primary student success indicators – attendance, behavior, course performance, and connectedness/belonging. Students struggling in one or more of these areas are given priority for enrollment in JAG, where they will be given the support they need to be successful in their high school careers.
On the day of the site visit, students from both Hale County and Greensboro High Schools gathered in Mrs. Bates’ JAG classroom to have lunch with their teachers, Dr. Murray, and Dr. Rogers from UWA. After everyone had a chance to eat, the class opened for a discussion where students shared more about what JAG means to them with Dr. Rogers. When asked what their favorite thing about JAG was, students said things like:
- “I love everything about JAG, but my favorite thing about JAG is going to competition.”
- “The environment that I am learning in.”
- “My favorite thing about JAG is community service when we give back to the community.”
- “My favorite thing about JAG is working on myself to become a better person for job and my job outlooks.”
Dr. Murray and a JAG Student from the HCCCA. Photo courtesy of Marlon Murray
When asked how JAG differs from their other classes, students said:
- “JAG is different from my other classes because you are really finding ways to make yourself a better person, or overcome things you didn’t think you could possibly do. It’s really different from everything else because I’ve never really had to do that.”
- “Compared to my other classes, JAG has helped me to be more open minded and has helped me be less shy.”
- “JAG is fun; it is more diverse. JAG sets you up for your career.”
On the date of the visit, students were preparing for their upcoming JAG competition, where students get to compete in things like Public Speaking and Creative Business Planning. The competition, students said, is a great way to get out of their comfort zones, meet new people, travel to new places, and really form deeper bonds with their classmates. But the fun that comes with competitions wasn’t the only things students liked about JAG. They also enjoyed participating in community service projects and learning the vital skills they will need to be competitive on the job market. Oh, and they LOVE their teacher, Mrs. Bates.
- “Mrs. Bates is an awesome teacher. The way she cares for us is such an amazing thing. She is an overachiever, and she wants nothing but the best from us. I really appreciate her.”
- “I love Mrs. Bates to death.”
- “I love Mrs. Bates because she is genuine. She is probably the only teacher that makes me happy.”
- “Something that Mrs. Bates and JAG has taught me is, treat others the way you want to be treated.”
In talking to the JAG students, it was easy to see the difference that just one caring adult can make in the lives of students. JAG, Mrs. Bates, and Dr. Murray have worked hard over the past year to give these students a sense of belonging that they hope will carry over and have positive impacts on other areas of the students’ success, such as their attendance, behavior, and course performance. Through the GRAD Partnership, the school will be tracking this data to see how all four metrics come together. For now, what is clear is that JAG gives these students who often describe themselves as “shy”, a place where they feel a sense of belonging and are comfortable speaking their minds.
With the support of the University of West Alabama as an intermediary, and the larger rural school cohort of the GRAD Partnership, faculty and staff at the Hale County College and Career Academy will continue to promote student success for students at Hale County and Greensboro High Schools by providing intervention services through the JAG program. In the upcoming year, Dr. Murray looks forward to welcoming new students to the JAG program while offering new opportunities for students to build friendships, entrepreneurship skills, self confidence, and more.
Hale County College and Career Academy is one of ten schools in the Black Belt benefiting from the GRAD Partnership’s Intermediary relationships. Thank you to Dr. Annah Rogers and the Rural School Collaborative’s Alabama and the Black Belt Regional Hub Partners at the University of West Alabama for sharing this update with us.