Avoiding Dropouts through School-to-Career Support with Ken Smith
December 6, 2022
Avoiding Dropouts through School-to-Career Support with Ken Smith

Helping youth who have dropped out of high school is important, but what if we could prevent the dropouts altogether? That’s the idea behind Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), championed by this week’s podcast guest, Ken Smith.

As the president and CEO of this 40-year-old non-profit organization, Ken is working to ensure that America’s most vulnerable youth succeed after high school and secure good jobs. And they do that through mentorship and career-focused educational opportunities inside schools.

Attendance has been pointed to by state leaders as the most pressing issue in schools. But it’s not about getting students into seats, which is a symptom of a bigger issue. What’s missing is connection. And without programs like JAG, we risk losing a big part of our next generation.

JAG has served more than 1.7 million students to date in 39 states and Ken’s vision has that impact doubling over the next few years. I’m incredibly impressed with the resources and opportunities that JAG will add in the coming years and I have no doubt that Ken will reach his goal.

About Ken Smith:

Mr. Kenneth M. Smith serves as President and CEO of Jobs for America’s Graduates, Inc. (JAG), the nation’s largest, most consistently applied model of high school retention and school-to-career transition for high-risk young people of great promise.

In 1979, Mr. Smith worked with Governor Pete du Pont of Delaware on the design of the first statewide test of the JAG Model and has served as President and CEO since its inception. JAG currently serves 75,000 young people annually, in more than 1,450 high schools, middle schools, and out-of-school programs in 39 states. Over 1.4 million youth have been connected to JAG throughout its 40-year history.
The non-profit JAG National Board of Directors is chaired by Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. It includes among its 50 members—fourteen Governors and several executives of major corporations and business and community organizations.

In recognition of his knowledge of national employment and training issues, three Presidents have appointed Mr. Smith to national commissions. He was appointed in 1981 and again in 1983 by President Reagan as Chairman of the National Commission for Employment Policy. Designed to analyze the full range of government policy related to employment, the Commission continues with a $2 million annual appropriation and a 15-member professional staff. Mr. Smith also accepted an appointment by President Reagan to the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education, where he had previously served under appointment by President Ford. President Nixon appointed Mr. Smith as Vice Chairman of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children for the period 1973-76.
Mr. Smith is also Chairman and Chief Executive of Strategic Partnerships LLC.

Prior to founding JAG, Mr. Smith served as staff aide to President Nixon (1969-70); as Director of Special Projects for the Distributive Education Clubs of America; and founder and President of 70,0001 Ltd., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping high school dropouts obtain employment. Thereafter, he served in a new post as Senior Advisor to the Governor of Delaware on all activities related to education at the secondary and postsecondary levels. During this period, he chaired the Commission of the Future of Education in Delaware and was nominated to serve as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Delaware Technical College.

Mr. Smith serves as a Trustee of the America’s Promise Alliance, founded in 1997 with General Colin Powell as Chairman and chaired today by Alma Powell, is a cross-sector partnership of more than 300 corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups that are passionate about improving lives and changing outcomes for children

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:22] – Who is Ken Smith
[1:50] – Where Ken’s story of serving youth started
[4:35] – The depth and breadth of schools is daunting
[4:51] – Our present situation now is the most alarming we’ve ever seen
[6:48] – A disconnected population at scale
[7:23] – Attendance is the symptom, not the disease
[8:25] – Part time work increases motivation in school
[9:17] – What JAG is and why are so many students a part of it
[13:22] – Youth need a relationship with a mentor
[16:15] – How JAG has spread to so many states
[19:16] – Where JAG is heading
[23:09] – Turbo Time
[28:04] – Ken’s passion for JAG
[28:48] – Something good that’s come out of COVID
[30:38] – Ken’s Magic Wand
[33:12] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hi Ken, it is so good to have you on education evolution.

Ken Smith 1:12
Delighted to be here. I’ve heard really great things about the particular podcast. So look forward to it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:19
Thank you. And listeners. today I’m chatting with Ken Smith, president of the national nonprofit jobs for America’s graduates or jag for over 40 years jag has been working to prevent school dropouts, and help America’s most vulnerable young people succeed in post secondary education and secure good jobs. So let’s dive in. Can we know that our schools must evolve and meet the needs of these most vulnerable youth like jag does? Where did this story of serving in educational change begin for you?

Ken Smith 1:56
It actually goes back. Right after I was an intern in the White House and participated actually in the first opportunity. Young people had to vote back in 1972. And I met the vocational student organization leadership, the folks from FFA and distributive education Clubs of America and others. And the DECA organization had a program for high school dropouts to try to recover them and reengage them. And right after the campaign, they invited me to take the leadership role, it was only in three locations. So as we got into it, it became obvious that is as urgent as it was to help those who had dropped out in this particular program had great success. It would Wouldn’t it be better to have prevented the fact that they did drop out because it’s so much harder, so much longer, so much expensive, and you’re catching up, rather than getting ahead. So that prompted me once I was invited by the governor of Delaware to be his chief education adviser Governor peeked upon. At his time when Delaware was in a terrible mess. It had the highest youth unemployment rate in the country, the second highest dropout rate in the country. It had one of the lowest test scores in the country out. Employers were complaining to the governor that these young people couldn’t read, write, talk show up for work on time and have to leave because they couldn’t find workers. Sounds familiar, right? 40 years later.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 3:30

Ken Smith 3:31
So we then designed meaning five separate task force’s of business and government and Labor and Workforce and community leaders to build a different model and a different approach, tested it in Delaware, worked really well. With the intervention of the Democratic Carter administration with the Republican Governor Pete DuPont administration, they came together and agreed to take that success to four other states created jobs for Americans graduates spin the movie forward 40 years, we have 39 states, almost 1500 locations, about 75,000 Young people enrolled today. And 1.7 million have been participated in the program since its inception.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:19
Wow. That is a stunning. And I agree, I love deck. I love that we have programs in our schools that are more experiential and more work related. I am curious because you are in the midst of this, it just seems like the depth and breadth of the challenges in our schools right now is daunting. And with your perspective that it was rough back when you started jag and your experience across the years, how would you describe our present situation?

Ken Smith 4:50
It is the most alarming that we’ve ever seen. So bear in mind, we’ve been at this for 40 years. And this is the most challenging environment we’ve ever Some, some terrible combination of the multiple impacts of the pandemic, which are deeper and broader than I think any of us fully appreciate the lack of socialization for at least two years for most young people, the unbelievable level of mental health challenges. I know we’ve been reading about it, but to experience it day to day, it just really alarming the level of school fights and and challenges that are making it make students fear in the school that we’re not talking about those terrible killing incidents, but just the level of which, again, is a socialization problem, most recently, in talking to a variety of state level leaders, and I’ve asked the question, what do you think, is the most important issue? Interestingly enough, they say attendance, the sharp decline in a student attendance, yes, they come just enough so that they can be counted as a student. But actually, they’re not showing up much of the time, or if they do it for a couple of hours. So if you can’t reach these young people, if they’re not getting the building, then you’re never going to be able to help them succeed. So the dramatic decline in attendance, learning loss, disengagement from schools, combined with a mental health issues and the level of violence in around the schools make this regrettably, Delaware was in a mess at the time, I actually believe that the country is now in a really, there’s a risk here. It was like a whole portion of a generation, if we’re not careful.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 6:40
Yeah, I’ve heard people say that this could become the disconnected generation.

Ken Smith 6:46
Very much so. And they’re disconnected at scale. It’s not just the disadvantaged populations, it’s across the board. It’s this, again, it’s probably hard to fully understand the impact of two years of essentially being disengaged from the outside society because of COVID at a crucial moment of development, and most young people, and that’s a big piece of their lives to yours. Not so much a big piece of my age, but it is.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:17
Absolutely, I wonder because to me, attendance is a symptom, and not the disease. And sometimes I think it’s easier for us to grab on to something you can measure. But to me, it’s not about forcing kids into this model where they feel unsafe and disconnected so that our numbers change. I think it’s about dealing with the model that doesn’t feel safe that they don’t feel connected to so when you’re talking to the governor, to the leaders, hopefully they’re getting that it’s more than just getting kids back into the buildings.

Ken Smith 7:53
Well, yes, you’ve said it, it’s actually an indicator, they’re voting with their feet, they’re not coming. So whatever it is that’s being offered or not offered, is not enough. Now, not all the schools, it’s the home, it’s the family situation. Sometimes their economics require these young people to work, they just have to work. It’s just not a choice. So we you know, we actually help a lot of the young people in jag to find part time work. Actually just wonderful research that says part time work actually increases success rates in high school, because there’s a motivation to it, there’s a discipline to it, there’s a reinforcement to it. But there is a large portion of the very disadvantaged population where they must work in order to keep the family going. So there’s a lot of factors at work. And they’re not all in the school. But in the end, I’d like to argue that jag tends to find these young people come to school, if they have a chance to be in the JAG program. They are engaged in school, and they do better in their other classes, because they see hope they see opportunity that got help, and motivation. In the end, it’s all about motivation. If you don’t have them motivated, they’re not going to learn they’re not going to come and they’re not going to be successful.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 9:13
Absolutely. So let’s unpack what jag is, and why you have 75,000 students participating in it, they wouldn’t be if it weren’t meeting their needs, because as you said, they are voting with their feet. So tell us about Jag.

Ken Smith 9:32
So it is built the design from our friends and career and technical education, which has worked for so many young people for so long. Not just the student organization, but the career and technical education programs themselves, their specific, their their career focused on young people understand, oh, that’s why I need math to be able to work in the manufacturing plant. Oh, that’s why I’ve got to communicate. I’ve got to write indications. Oh, that’s why I have to show up for work on time. So we built the JAG model around the idea of a focus on jobs, which in the era we did it, remember, was the highest youth unemployment rate in the country. And also to help our employers see that there was a cadre of young people getting ready to come to work. So there are 37 employability competencies that we worked for our young people to master in the course of their time in class, which is about a class period a day on average, reinforcing that is we built a separate student organization because 90% of our young people were not involved in anything. They weren’t on the football team. They weren’t in the honors, weren’t Junior Achievement, but the success of those student organizations and motivating and engaging on people. So we created the JAG career Association, modeled after the career and technical education student groups like deca, and SkillsUSA, Health Occupation students of America who Selma, but for this population. So they elect officers, they do community service work, and not so much for the impact on the community. As good as that is build self esteem, project management skills outreach. We then also have competitive events built around those employability skills as another way to learn.

Unknown Speaker 11:30
So you’ve got the in school project based learning methodology of mastering those 37 employability skills, enhanced by the participation, usually separately, in the JAG career Association, combined with help from that same staff member to overcome all the issues we just talked about outside the school building, it’s transportation, if it’s housing, if it’s food, if it’s resolving issues on the home front, if you don’t fix those, they’re not going to come to school, and they’re not going to be successful. And then the fourth component is 12 months of support after they leave school, to be sure they’re successful at work in post secondary education, which means they persist, and or joining the military. So the 12 months of support after school, we have found to be just crucial to be able to assure that they really are connected to the labor force and really are successful.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:30
Wow, I love that because it’s frustrating to me sometimes in elite schools, and I’ve worked in some of them that we talked about how many kids are graduating, and that they’re off to a four year institution? And I’ve asked before, do we track? Do we know where they are in a semester? Do we know where they are in a year? It’s like, no, we’ve done our job. And it’s like, no, that’s a really tough transition. And a lot of times it means without parents, you know, or not at home. So for you to track that and support them for 12 months, seems huge. And I also want to talk about the mentor, the staff person that’s checking out what’s going on in their life, what do they need? It comes back so often in these amazing programs that I hear about, that there’s a relationship aspect that youth need, do you find that this staff person becomes that mentor, because that relationship?

Ken Smith 13:28
Indeed, and, the all the evidence says In the end, a caring adult is the decisive factor, often in the success of really challenged populations, whether it’s at Junior Achievement, whether it’s in boys clubs, and girls clubs, whether it’s an honor debate, it is the caring adult, that’s precisely what staff we call job specialists carry out. It’s all about being there. It’s being there every day. So you can sense when issues aren’t going well. There’s problems at home, they’re falling asleep. They come in and through the attic. So it is they in many ways, they’re far beyond the mentor, but they certainly play that role. And those relationships, we have found timberland last for years to come.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 14:17
I love that. And I love that it’s not just about checking if the kids got the work done, again, these metrics, it’s sensing what might be going on. And that could be like the first major breakup in a relationship. It could be so many things that aren’t going to be on a checklist, but that are going to be impacting that youth. So somebody that knows them and is looking for subtleties and not just checking off metrics to me is is really important.

Ken Smith 14:46
No, it is qualitative, even more than quantitative. And it is, again, a lot of the some of it you can measure engagement, attendance, grade gains, graduation writes some of the you can’t measure, which is a whole new view of the world, a sense of hope, a sense of opportunity. It’s hard to measure that. But we’re doing starting a process of a net promoter score process. And we’ve set a very high bar for ourselves of 70%. Well, it is a in that methodology that is really hard to get to, because everything below and rating of an eight gets thrown out. I mean, you’ve got to get eight, nine or 10, to really qualify, and we’ll be asking our young people this particular school year, that’s difficult it is it is. But would they recommend us to another student or not? It’s a simple question. The good news is the evidence, we have to do recruitment the first year, the second year, we have to play triage of how many young people we can except, and how many we can in the programs we have, because they hear about this new opportunity and new source of engagement.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 16:04
Wow, I love that. Talk a little bit more about how this works. You alluded that it originally worked with some bipartisan support, but how do you how do you have this in 39 states and have the funding? It seems like it would be really challenging to get this going in as many places as you have it.

Ken Smith 16:27
So I’m recall, we were a teeny tiny nonprofit them are pretty small now. And we tried to answer the question, if we wanted to expand this other states, and we only had a limited amount of capacity, what would how would you do that? And the short answer was governor’s, they are the one person that could bring all the pieces of a puzzle together, education workforce, post secondary education, that community. So Governor du Pont, who has everlasting credit, was putting themselves squarely on the line got on the phone with his colleagues of both parties. We persuaded the then Virginia Governor Chuck Robb to become the vice chairman as the Democrat. So immediately, day one we were founded, it was bipartisan. Today, 14 governors served on the National Board of jag that’s the largest number of Governor to serve on any board in the country. Wow. And they do so. You know, their staffs always urge caution, because it’s one more thing that they’ve got some exposure on, they’re sharing their reputations. They’re sharing their time. But we’re just blessed that we have that kind of enthusiasm from those governors, and that they will invest their time and their reputations. And so to some members of Congress, the President of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, president of the National Society of Human Resource Management, which is all the people that hire folks at the frontlines, Johnny Taylor. We’ve got members of state legislatures and others, in addition to a number of the Chief Human Resource Officers of the Fortune 500. So it’s a wonderful board. I’m not sure they agree on anything else. We agree on jobs for America’s graduates. And that’s the only question we ever asked them.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 18:13
Yes. And I love that. Because really, who doesn’t want every one of our youth to graduate to be supported to go on and do wonderful things in their post secondary lives? So I think sometimes we focus on our differences. But across the party lines, we have so much in common and so much hope for our youth.

Ken Smith 18:36
When Vice President Mondale of the Carter Administration called Governor Dupont, Republican governor DuPont called me and said, What do you think he wants? Not sure, sir. He said, Will you come join me because I think it’s about what we’re doing here with job for Delaware graduates and Mondale said, Pete, we’re not always in the business of helping Republican governors, but you’ve got something really special here. And if you’re willing to help us do it, we’d like to take it before other states. So that was exactly the perfect example of a bipartisan engagement.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:09
That gives me hope. I love that. So Ken, I am seeing that you’re not like resting on your laurels, that your national board is has put out a new strategy, youth opportunities and outcomes. 2024. Can you talk a little bit about where you’re heading?

Ken Smith 19:30
Well, three? Well, at least on four tracks, the board has agreed with the recommendation of our state affiliates, and the national staff. One is to bring the best story as fast as we can to as many as we can, and still do it. Well. They are all the issues we talked about early in this discussion are there. We do believe we’ve got a compelling solution. And we need to get it in the hands of as many kids as we can. So we’re hoping to double our scale in the next three years. If there’s any way to do that. On the second track, we want to enhance the experience young people have. So we’re going to be making dual enrollment and the opportunity to get a credential that matters in the communities they’re in, which means they’re going to get a better than entry level job. If they have as a major enhancement of the value of participating in Jag, we’re going to also greatly expand the opportunities in that student organization. So for example, in 10 days, we’re going to have 200 young leaders who’ve been elected at the chapter or state level, to give them management, the leadership development training, so they can be more effective as student leaders and engage more students and do more things we’re going to create, we created a set of national officers and a national engagement platform for the students that are also investing in our network.

Unknown Speaker 20:56
In the end, this is all about those people at the frontlines. It’s all about the staff that supports them. In the administrative structure. There’s some wonderful help from our friends at Boeing and synchrony, we’ve been able to get proven management and leadership development programs that have been field tested and pressure tested by those companies. And they’ve made them available at no cost to the leaders of jobs for America’s graduates, affiliates. And we’re also greatly expanding our trauma informed training and other tools and tactics to help our frontline people be even more effective every day in the classroom. And finally, we’re looking for ways to raise the voices of the students and the staff so that more schools and other leaders hear that story. And the lessons we’ve learned about how to motivate and engage young people in ways that make them successful. So it’s a tall agenda, we’re going to have those, those four strategic goals, we’ve got a plan in front of the board that hopefully act on here in 10 days. And that’s our, that’s our mission for 2023.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:08
Oh, my gosh, a far from sitting on your resting on your laurels. I appreciate that you are really in touch. I mean, 40 year history and a success record would make it easy to keep doing what is working. But for you to touch on things like trauma informed education, there’s so much in the schools right now that we’re trying to grapple with and understand aces and how being homeless at age three impacts high school attendance, there are so many things going on. And you’re right there on that. And dual enrollment. A lot of kids are like, hey, free college and high school credit, and maybe I can have my a and my diploma at the same time. So you’re not competing with anything. You’re taking all of these resources to enhance what you’re offering. Precisely so. Amazing. Can I am going to shift and just talk a little bit about you because I think it’s really fun to understand the President the person behind an amazing organization like Jag. So are you ready for a few turbo time questions?

Ken Smith 23:13
Sure. Not sure I’ll be ready for them. But you go to it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:17
You can always say pass. What’s the last book you read?

Ken Smith 23:23
To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten all the way through a book. I have so much read documents and analyses and reports and so on. It’s been a very long time. You actually by posing the question, you make me think on it. And I’m gonna say it was probably some of Churchill’s writings about the Second World War, just because of the parents and others that were involved in looking for a different look at the way things were the different era.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 23:51
Yes. How about two inspirational folks that you’d love to meet past or present?

Ken Smith 23:57
Well, of course, the obvious answer is any one of the religious leaders from the far distant past. But, you know, in the more recent, I mean, I just think that some of these powerful figures in developing our society, whether it was Churchill himself, that played such a crucial role in saving Europe, Mahatma Gandhi for the different approach he took to the world and the message he sent of both hope and opportunity, but askew violence, or a Martin Luther King all came at the world in a very different way, and had an enormous impact that continues to resonate today. I wouldn’t mind seeing sitting down with Abraham Lincoln for a cup of coffee as well, but I am I’m so that would be high on my list as well. I’ve had the opportunity to meet most of the presidents since I’ve was, you know, in the confessional role. All of them, each of them fascinating, you know, all delight to get to talk to him and meet so But if, if any of those folks were available, I’d be happy to, to make for them.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:07
Yes. How about your favorite place to travel.

Ken Smith 25:10
So my wife and I are big fans of St. Martin’s. It’s a place where we crash, we haven’t been able to go in some years. But that would be a favorite spot that just something about the beach in the water are left along with the pressures off for the moment.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 25:26
Agreed. What’s the biggest thing you wish folks knew about collaborating with business partners.

Ken Smith 25:33
In the end, you have to remember, these are businesses that are not philanthropies, their businesses. So being sure that their willingness to help support something really good with philanthropy, needs to have a business value underneath it. So in our case, had probably employment and bringing well prepared young people to their doorstep, it is making sure that the next generation of consumers has the resources and has the understanding and the appreciation of their role as a consumer, as a citizen. But in the end with working with businesses, you must understand what is what drives the business, why they’re there, why people get employed, how they get paid. And and so typically, the most obvious is the engagement around young people that’s potentially future workers.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 26:30
Yes. What’s a pet peeve of yours?

Ken Smith 26:34
You know, that. Like, the good news is, I didn’t quickly come up with one. It’s, I guess, if it in a professional sense, it is this concern that people just, they just feel like they’re too busy, there’s too much going on. So they can’t do one more thing, which in my case, of course, is make the case to bring jag to your school, or bring jag to the to the state. The Busy people who want to get engaged are busy people by definition. So they got a lot on the agenda. So you have to make the case as to apply this as opposed to some other use of their time or money. And there’s a I have to say there’s probably going to exhaustion in the education system. And they are if they are truly exhausted, just like our wonderful people in the healthcare system, they’re exhausted, gone through, that they never would have ever thought they would ever have to face in. And that’s why 800,000 teachers have left the profession. So it’s, so I get it as to why they’re exhausted. I get it, why they don’t have the bandwidth. But the pet peeve is but gosh, we’ve got something so powerful, so valuable. It can make such a difference.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:59
Yes. What’s the passion you bring to Jag?

Ken Smith 28:03
So it’s probably in the end, it is when the first one or two young people say you’ve saved my life, whether it’s literally saved their lives, which in some cases, they are saying that’s the case, or you’ve saved their lives, in the sense of having a good life, a happy life and life of believing in themselves in their futures. So watching the eyes light up, watching the energy, the enthusiasm as they bubble over trying to tell you about what they’re doing. You got me? No. Let’s go do more of it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 28:41
Yes. What’s something positive that has come out of this time of COVID.

Ken Smith 28:46
So I think it’s been an interesting combination of some families getting much closer, because they were close. They were together all the time. It’s also unfortunately, in reverse has been a disruptive factor when families that were not conducive and didn’t have the right set of circumstances and they jam too many family members into one place for and so there’s there’s been a real downside to it. But I think one of the great upsides is that many of us had more time in and around family because there was no you didn’t have to go somewhere for professional reasons. The other one is this, what we’re doing today, this type, this use of technology, and the ability to see and talk and interact with people in real time, not physically present. But the same that’s been applied to family members and others. You know, we can chit chat with the grandkids anytime we want, then want to have him show us the paintings they just did or the things they’ve just done. So I think the evolution of technology and the connectedness that it provides is probably if there’s benefits from this terrible mess, that’s at least wonderful.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:59
Agreed. And what’s something most people don’t know about you?

Ken Smith 30:03
Oh, gosh, probably a lack of other talents. I can’t sing. I can’t dance, I can’t play and so but so, you know, I wish I can say I was a great guitar player or a great piano player or something. But none of the above

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:20
your superpower has impacted millions of kids. So I think it’s okay that you can’t carry a tune.

Ken Smith 30:29
Well, I hope so. Because it is a fact.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:32
Yes. Can I like to conclude with a magic wand moment? So if I hand you the magic wand, what would you wish for for our, our young adults for our 17 to 21 year olds.

Ken Smith 30:48
So, you know, other than just a fantasy, I would say the single most important thing, if we had a magic wand that doesn’t cost much money, is make sure every young person in school is part of something else. They need to join a student organization without regard necessarily to which one sports music band, vocational education, what matters is the extra moment of engagement is a decisive, favorable factor if they’re involved in something else. So I would make the case that should be a commitment that school should make, that every student has an option to get involved in some form of a student organization, because it just makes such a difference. And it doesn’t cost hardly anything.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 31:44
Agreed. Many kids have crossed that stage and receive their diploma because they got to be on the wrestling team, or because they were stage craft. You are so right. And to me, that’s it low hanging fruit.

Ken Smith 31:58
That is it is just not we know how to do it. There’s 1000 organizations within the side of the school building. It just, but it is a deliberate decision to say what we’re going to do is make sure every student has a set of choices of student organizations to be enrolled in. And I I promise, the schools attendance will go up. participation will go oh, great gains will go up. And just a happier school population.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 32:30
Yes, yes. Can a thank you for dedicating your life to making a difference with millions of students and and you’re still going strong with new initiatives. It’s been an honor to have you on the podcast today.

Ken Smith 32:47
Well, thank you so much for the chance to tell a bit of the story about what did in the end. It’s important for everybody to realize these are young people have great problems. You just have to unlock it. That’s our job. Yeah, thank you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 33:13
Ken is a humble powerhouse. The program he created in Delaware has now served over a million students. And their dynamic plan to move forward gives me hope. This hope is desperately needed right now. I agree with Ken, that this is the most alarming time in schools that we’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen research that part time work increases success rates in high school, but it doesn’t surprise me. And nor does it surprise me that jag is experiencing success with such a complete palette of services to provide that wraparound support. And as Rita Pearson says in her famous TED Talk, every child deserves a champion. And jag provides that caring adult in our silos. I’ve always been surprised that we move a child through elementary school, and then let them go. None of our collective wisdom as elementary teachers goes on to support that child’s middle school experience. And then this is repeated in middle school and high school.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 34:29
These disconnects, leave a student hanging so Jags 12 months of support after high school is impressive. We know that many students who start college don’t even finish their first year who is there to help them. We need to be there to help them. Having support as young adults navigate a new reality. After 13 years of lockstep learning in our schools is vital. at all, whether it’s the JAG program or something in your own community, there are ways to add mentors and to make sure that we collaborate and provide overlapping support between each of our children’s milestones. Ken’s insights impressed me to the very end. When serving as a high school teacher or principal, I have often told parents of high school students, please help your student find a niche. Many students make it through high school because they could go to the art room after school, or the jazz band director was inspirational. Or they were a part of the cross country team and celebrated for every personal best they achieved. So those of us working with high school students, let’s make Ken’s magic wand wish a reality. Let’s make sure every person in school is a part of an extra curricular or a special group. This key factor can be what makes the difference. And while we’re at it, let’s see if we can bring jag to many more schools. As always, thank you for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 36:23
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs. And it always struck me how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit educationevolution.org/consult for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together. Thanks again for listening. To support the education evolution. Subscribe so it lands in your podcast app and gets out to more decision makers. Then rate and review it. For more information in shownotes go to educationevolution.org education evolution listeners. You are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen heard, valued and thriving. We are in this together and we need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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