Two new programs at Great Bend High School were in the spotlight Thursday when GBHS hosted the school board’s monthly luncheon meeting. Students in the Foods I class prepared the meal.
GBHS Principal Tim Friess introduced Karla Martinez, the new attendance coordinator, and Jennifer Hopkins, the JAG instructor. JAG stands for Jobs for America’s Graduates.
Both Martinez and Hopkins spent the first nine weeks of the school year building relationships, but already had success stories to report. Hopkins said one JAG student, GBHS junior Cierra Wood, won first place in a public speaking contest at a state meeting and will travel to Washington, D.C., for a week-long national convention.
Miss Wood will be invited to meet the school board at an upcoming meeting.
Martinez is quickly becoming known to students who are chronically tardy or absent. She is bilingual and has been able to contact English and Spanish speaking parents to express concerns. As a result, more parents are calling the school to explain the reasons their students are absent if they should be excused.
In the past, it was common for school staff to not know where 40 or more students were on a given day. The number is now closer to 17 and was a low four recently.
Attendance, like other skills and behaviors, is ranked in three tiers. Tier 1, or the “green” tier, is the desired level and represents students with four or fewer unexcused absences in the quarter. The yellow and red tiers are levels where improvement is needed. Too many absences, and a youth can end up in the court system.
“In the second nine weeks we’ll work on incentives,” Martinez said. “I work on red and yellow, but we don’t want to forget the kids that are here and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Friess said students are already showing better attendance than they did at this time a year ago. “It’s been a huge difference to have someone focused on their being here,” he said.
Students who are more than 15 minutes late are considered absent, and unexcused absences can earn In School Suspension. Some students have complained about ISS, noting they got away with missing class in previous years.
Changing patterns also means changing how adults view absences. Martinez said she talks to parents about why students are expected to be in class on time every day.
A grant allowed Great Bend to add the Jobs for America’s Graduates program this year. Sophomores, juniors and seniors may take JAG as an elective course if they meet at least five criteria. Hopkins said her 38 students each meet eight of the criteria, on average. The criteria are considered barriers to future success, which may include poor attendance or grades, or a parent who didn’t go to college or who didn’t finish high school. The range is wide enough that most students could qualify, she said.
She works with her students one-on-one as much as possible, including before and after school. They do team-building activities to learn personal responsibility and deal with social and emotional issues. They also work on academic remediation.
In the second nine weeks Hopkins plans to help her students identify things they want to do after they graduate from GBHS. “No one path fits all,” she noted.
Hopkins also focuses on attendance. She said most of her students have jobs and most of the jobs are in the fast food industry. Some work until midnight or 1 a.m. and then don’t make it to school in the morning, she said.
“We’ve got to find ways to work with the businesses in the community to do what’s best for the students,” she said.
JAG students who are doing well in school can go on monthly field trips. In September they went to Kingman County High School in Greensburg for a career information fair hosted by Amerigroup Kansas. This month some students visited the Fort Hays State University campus and in November they will attend an interactive college/military/career fair hosted by ESSDACK (Education Services and Staff Development Association of Central Kansas) at Hutchinson. In February they will tour the Capitol at Topeka and in March they will compete in a JAG-K event at Seward County Community College. Competition will include mock interviews. There will be a leadership development conference at Emporia State University in April.
After high school, Hopkins will continue to be available as a resource to JAG students for one year.
Hopkins said she’d like to see the JAG program expanded at GBHS with a second instructor. School board members were receptive to learning more about the possibility.
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to,” board member Susan Young said. “I’m just jaw-dropping impressed with the program.”