Hanging in Celeste Bowman’s classroom at Seymour High School are 13 awards.

The certificates highlight Bowman’s work and the achievements of her students in the school’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program.

Some of the awards are for personal accomplishments. Others are in recognition of reaching overall goals.

But all of them show a program committed to excellence and success in helping students transition into jobs, the military or college after they graduate from high school.

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“It’s cool for the kids to see,” Bowman said of the awards. “It inspires them to do their best.”

Recently, Bowman added another award to the wall, which she compares to an athletic team’s trophy case.

Last month, at the JAG National Training Seminar in New Orleans, Bowman received the Outstanding Specialist Award for her efforts in increasing graduation rates and participation among her students.

It’s the second year in a row she has been honored with a specialist award.

Last year, she received the state’s Outstanding Specialist Award.

Her leadership and positive influence on students also helped Indiana JAG earn several national awards during this year’s event.

Although she’s proud to represent Seymour’s JAG program, Bowman said, the awards are not about her but about her students.

“I’m just doing my job,” she said. “They are the ones who are working really hard and proving that JAG makes a difference.”

‘Become a family’

This year, about 40 juniors and seniors are participating in the program, which focuses on each student’s unique obstacles and needs both in and out of the classroom. Some students come from single-parent households, while others have both parents who work. For whatever reason, many JAG students early on don’t feel as connected to school as they could, Bowman said.“If you don’t like it at school, what are the chances of succeeding here?” she asked. “My students start out as just a group of kids in a classroom, but by the end, they have become a family.“We provide those students who need it the extra support and resources they may not get at home or anywhere else.”

Students are recommended or referred to JAG by school administrators, guidance counselors, other teachers or even by their friends and peers.

Senior Jake Rockey said that without JAG he would struggle to pass his classes.

Rockey said his girlfriend at the time was in the program and they had talked about his struggles with trying to keep up his grades while working.

“She had recommended I talk to Mrs. Bowman, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a shot and see if it helps,’” he said. “I can proudly say that the program has helped me in so many ways.”

Thanks to JAG and Bowman’s guidance and support, he passed his junior year with A’s and B’s after getting off to a bad start, Rockey said.

“I didn’t start JAG until my second semester last year, so it was clearly something about the program and the motivation from Mrs. Bowman that helped me pass,” he said.

Through JAG, he has developed many valuable skills he can use now and after he graduates — most importantly, to believe in himself, Rockey said.

“To be comfortable with who I am and to be confident in everything I do,” he said. “I have learned to get along with others better and to work as a team, too.”

Rockey said he now plans to join the U.S. Air Force after high school to be a pilot, and JAG is helping him achieve that goal.

Graduation and beyond

The main purpose of JAG is to help students graduate.Nationally, the goal is for 90 percent of JAG students to graduate from high school. Seymour’s JAG has had a 100 percent graduation rate for the past three years, Bowman said.“That’s big,” she said. “Because without JAG, some of these students may not have made it to graduation on their own.”

During their hour-and-a-half classes every other day, Bowman tries to get students to understand how what they are learning in high school relates to their future and life outside school.

The class focuses on project- and service-based curriculum to help students develop leadership, organizational, conflict resolution, verbal and written communications, time management and other job-related and employable skills.

Students learn how to write resumes and cover letters, dress and act professionally, and what to say and do in an interview.

“I bring in a lot of guest speakers from businesses and industries around town for students to explore different careers,” Bowman said. “There are many very good opportunities here for students right out of high school.”

Much time also is devoted to community service, she said.

“They decide on a project and plan it from beginning to end,” she said. “They have to market it and be able to sell it in order to get others involved.”

So far, JAG classes opened and continue to operate a pantry at the high school providing food and other needed items to students and their families, conducted food and blanket drives to help the needy and organized a custodian appreciation project.

This is the fifth year for JAG to be offered at Seymour High School. JAG has been in Indiana since 2006, and there are a total of 118 JAG programs in the state.

The second goal of JAG is for 60 percent of the students to have a job within a year after they graduate. That includes military enlistment.

“Since it has just been three months since the last group of seniors graduated, we’re still working on that, so our numbers are kind of low right now,” Bowman said. “But we usually are higher than 60 percent by the end of the one-year period.”

Part of the reason JAG is successful is because the program doesn’t end when students graduate, Bowman said.

There is at least a year of followup, where she contacts graduates at least once a month to find out how they are doing and if there is anything she can do to help them, whether it’s navigate the financial aid process for college, get workforce training or search for jobs.

“I don’t do the work for them,” she said. “I teach them to advocate for themselves.”

A third goal of JAG is for 80 percent of students to have positive outcomes, which include employment, military or postsecondary education.

The program also strives to have 60 percent of graduates in full-time jobs and 80 percent in full-time placement, which could include a part-time job while taking college classes.

Steven J. Braun, commissioner of the state Department of Workforce Development, said Indiana’s JAG program is a model of how to reach and help at-risk students become productive citizens and employees.

“Our thanks and appreciation to these award-winning JAG specialists whose leadership and dedication encourage our students to achieve their highest potential,” he said.

Pull Quote

“I’m just doing my job. They are the ones who are working really hard and proving that JAG makes a difference.”

Celeste Bowman, on the success of the Jobs for America’s Graduates program at Seymour High School

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.