High school students in their senior year of high school have struggled through the adjustments made by school closures that were prompted by COVID-19. They have been removed from their classrooms and isolated from their classmates and their teachers. Extracurricular activities and milestone moments like prom or commencement ceremonies have been cancelled. The graduates from our programs have experienced these changes as well as additional barriers. With all classes moving to virtual delivery methods and libraries closing, students have had issues with internet access and the necessary online programs to complete their courses.
With support from Back on Track specialists and Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) staff, as well as partnerships between the Anchorage School District, United Way, and Covenant House Alaska, 14 students were able to overcome these barriers and earn their high school diplomas this month.
One student in our night class program was feeling pretty defeated a couple of months ago and was sure she wasn’t going to finish this semester. Our Back on Track specialist, Dayle, sat down one night for hours to help and encourage her to finish, and she did.
The youth here agree the most challenging thing is not being able to meet the people they are working with and the classmates they are working alongside. They are missing the connection that comes with seeing other students regularly in a classroom and being able to see the teachers in person. “It’s hard to build trusting relationships when you can’t see a person, especially if you didn’t meet them prior to the Hunker Down order,” our JAG specialist says, “there’s a level of personal relationships that are especially helpful to build with the youth to be able to effectively support them through school.”
Because of the policies put in place at the Youth Engagement Center in response to COVID-19 and keeping the youth and community safe, JAG hasn’t been able to do as much programming as they would like and have only been able to check in by phone calls, but the youth have expressed they are grateful to have someone check on them and walk with them through these times.
To celebrate our graduating youth, we held a drive through graduation ceremony. These students achieved their goals and earned their diplomas; they deserved that moment. We wanted to acknowledge it in a way that would be memorable for these young people. In addition, a donor reached out in hopes to shop for a gift for each graduate.
A couple of the graduates are going on to college in the fall, one has already moved out of state, and a few of them already have jobs. Some are still figuring out what the next step will be for them. All of the staff who have been with them along the way are so impressed with them in overcoming all of their barriers and reaching this huge accomplishment.
Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) is a program that helps youth with their educational goals and assists with any financial barriers that might come along with them, such as college application fees or testing fees. JAG specialists talk with them about options they could pursue after finishing high school, whether it’s straight to a job or on to secondary education. They also help with job skills and life skills that will lead to more independence and successful employment. JAG is a bridge to help youth get connected to their next step.
Some of the students in JAG live at Covenant House Alaska. Youth join JAG for many different reasons—they might go to regular high school during the day, and then come to night class to catch up on credits, or they could have a day job and come to night class to keep up with their studies, or they might function better in a smaller environment that we are able to offer in the on-site classroom.