“During that time in high school, my parents, they were deported to Mexico,” Arizona Center for Youth Resources career advisor Mario Marquez said. “In [Jobs for Arizona’s Graduates], I found a family…I kind of needed at that time.”
Jobs for Arizona’s Graduates (JAG) is a local division of the national nonprofit Jobs for America’s Graduates, which works at the state level to help prevent dropouts among teenagers who have barriers to graduation.
Every year more than 1.2 million students dropout of high school in the United States, according to online non-profit DoSomething.org.
High school dropouts will earn $200,000 less than a high school graduate and almost a million dollars less than a college graduate over their lifetime. Over the past three decades JAG has worked to help more than a million young people stay in school, pursue postsecondary education and secure quality entry-level jobs.
“What I learned in JAG [was stay] motivated, stay focused, always help others,” Marquez added. “While I was at JAG, I got assigned a career advisor, just like me… He was always there; they found the resources that I needed.”
Today, JAG Arizona serves more than 1,200 young people through 25 programs in Arizona communities across the state. It teaches students the academic, personal, leadership and vocational skills needed to be successful.
“It’s very important that young people are informed before graduation about what … the career opportunities out there are for them,” JAG Arizona Economic Development Communications Manager Nicole Porter said. “Most of our students don’t know about all the employers and opportunities in their community and the state.”
According to Marquez, his career advisors at JAG inspired him to become one himself.
“I really looked up to them,” he said. “So now, I’m a person like them, I’m a person that gives advice, helps people with their resumes, their mock interviews, finish high school, get their GED or enroll in community college or university. There were people like that in JAG, so I think that’s what made me want to do this right now.”
For the class of 2017-2018, JAG students nationally had a 95 percent graduation rate — 10 percent higher than the U.S. average.
76 percent of national JAG students were eligible for free or subsidized lunch, 60 percent live in a single-family household, 64 percent were economically disadvantaged, 83 percent have inadequate or no work experience and 80 percent lacked marketable occupational skills that are demanded in the workforce.
51 percent of JAG students are male, 40 percent are African American, 40 percent are Caucasian, 11 percent are Hispanic, two percent are American Indian, six percent are multi-racial and one percent are Asian.
“I think it helps a lot of minority students,” Marquez said. “It helps build a very safe space that you can communicate with your JAG teachers in a different way than you can communicate with any regular teachers. Some personal stuff and they give you advice… It’s something very unique that I don’t think many other classes have.”
“For me, it was the program that changed the direction of my life at that time and maybe if it wasn’t changed at that point I would’ve never graduated from high school or thought of going to college… You make it as efficient as you want it to be,” Marquez added.