Delaware Sen. Nicole Poole thinks the JDG program may just be the greatest head-hunting organization that exists for Delaware businesses.
“Our students have the opportunity to meet your organization as early as the ninth grade,” Poole told a group of more than 200 business leaders and legislators. “And businesses have the opportunity to sculpt the employee they want down the road.”
Poole, president of the nonprofit Jobs for Delaware Graduates (JDG) program, was one of the speakers at the 2016 Career Pathways Breakfast, which celebrated the accomplishments of the 38-year-old program. JDG has been replicated in 31 states across the nation and served more than a million students.
Gov. Jack Markell served as the national chair of the organization for three years; his wife Carla is a mentor in the program. They joined others, including U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, in lauding JDG’s success, which began under the direction of Gov. Pierre du Pont in 1978 as a response to Delaware’s high unemployment and dropout rates.
“This is a better state because of Jobs for Delaware Graduates,” said Ken Smith, president and CEO of Jobs for America’s Graduates, and one of the architects of the original program under du Pont.
The cornerstone of its success lies in its simplicity: Teach job and life skills to students, starting in the seventh grade. Thirty-seven Delaware schools have a JDG program.
According to Poole, the program’s real success begins in the classroom, when at-risk students are identified; some have academic barriers, financial constraints, an incarcerated parent, skills deficiencies, or truancy.
Students are taught job attainment and retention skills, and life skills like budget and time management. They also receive career counseling and placement assistance. And it’s working.
According to Smith, a teen in JDG triples the rate they get a job, triples the rate they get a full-time job, and doubles the rate they go to college. The program boasts a 90 percent graduation rate across the country.
Megan Sellers was a freshman at Glasgow High School when a mix-up in her scheduled landed her in a JDG classroom.
“It was the luckiest mistake,” said Sellers, who graduated from high school last year and is studying radiology at Delaware Tech through the SEED program. “In high school my JDG specialist made sure I stayed on track.”
Interview skills and JDG’s reputation enabled Sellers to land a job at Rite Aid, and she hopes to transfer to Wilmington University to complete her bachelor’s degree.
“Even though I graduated from Glasgow, I still seek out my specialist for help.”
Crystal Ragin is a graduate of Concord High School and a political science student at Delaware State University. She credits the JDG program with giving her much-needed fundamentals, including interview and work skills.
“Whenever I have a meeting I’m always the first one there,” said Ragin, who said she hopes to become a member of the U.S. Senate. “And if an event requires business attire, I know khakis and a white shirt don’t make the cut.”