Students who are considered at risk for dropping out may change their minds, as USD 250 implements a couple of new programs targeted toward preventing high school students from doing so.

"About 100 students are going to get that support they normally wouldn’t have had," said John Bishop, principal at Pittsburg High School.

This year, PHS began a program known as Jobs for America’s Graduates, or JAG, which has been implemented in 33 states, but mainly targeted toward areas east of the Mississippi River.

"It was a program to look at and identify some of our at risk kids to make sure they will graduate and go to college or on to a career path," Bishop said. "The goal is to make sure we get kids headed to college and careers."

At the same time, the school district began working with Communities in Schools, a national dropout prevention organization.

Nidia Lopez and Deanna Miller have similar, but very different roles as the coordinators for JAG and CIS, respectively.

Miller said in Lawrence, where her position reports, the JAG director has been placed in the CIS office.

"They are two nation-wide organizations, but they are partnering in the state of Kansas," Miller said.

Miller said that she is the new site coordinator for CIS and will work with students in grades 9-12, and Lopez will focus more on approximately 35-45 students, mostly in the 11th and 12th grades.

"It makes us stronger," Miller said. "Our goal is to help the students achieve in life and through school."

"We are partners here at the school," Miller continued. "My job will be assessing the school’s needs and coming up with a site operation plan."

Miller said she will look at what services the district has and what services are needed. She also takes into account health agencies, social service agencies, volunteer availability and opportunities for programs such as job shadowing through area businesses.

"I’ll also be working with the families," Miller said.

She anticipates serving 65 students, and students will be considered based on risk factors that correlate with dropout statistics.

Bishop said factors can include being behind in school, financial concerns, attendance and truancy issues and peer situations, and her caseload will be based on referrals of students.

She added that it will not just be students who have lower academic scores.

Bishop said the same goes for JAG.

"They can be a very well-off student, but have certain risk factors that qualify with barriers," Bishop said. "What we try to do is provide an opportunity and a program for those students."

Lopez agreed.

"They are very bright students, but maybe they don’t have a plan," she said. "They’re not trouble makers really - they’re just not people who have really been tapped into."

Lopez said JAG offers a more relational approach and plenty of opportunities for students to do self-reflection that can lead to that inspiration.

"Pittsburg High School values every single student," Lopez said. "No student is better. We want them to be here."

"It could be any student," Lopez said of the students she works with, adding that they qualify if they have two out of five barriers, including having a parent not working or unemployed, if the student is a parent, or if the student is part of English for Speakers of Other Languages, or more

"All these barriers at any time can break a student to make an awful and most expensive decision of their life," Lopez said. "JAG was designed to get these kids involved."

She said her goal with each student is simple.

"My job is to get them a high school diploma and a job," Lopez said.

She said her ethnicity helps her in her goal.

"It gives me the drive to see every potential the student might have," Lopez said. "I may be the only person in their entire day who tells them, ‘You have something in you.’ I’m just excited to get the opportunity."

JAG includes a full curriculum that is implemented in the three classes Lopez teaches, where students build leadership skills.

The remainder of her time is spent building relationships with families and keeping in touch with graduates for the 12 months after they leave.

"One of the things we do well is we really build a relationship with each student," Lopez said, adding that she is passionate about helping them achieve. "I’m really blessed to have that opportunity and do that."

This also translates to Lopez pushing her seniors hard.

"You are the first JAG class that Pittsburg High School has ever had," she said she tells them. "There’s something special about being the first."

Bishop said the district already is pleased with outcomes of the programs.

"We’re already seeing some of the benefits and we’re on day 3 or 4," he said during the first full week of school.

He said at least a couple of students have reconsidered plans to drop out.

"It’s a program that gets at-risk students on the right pathway and helps them either get college-ready or career-ready and helps reduce the dropout rate or youth unemployment," Bishop said.

Lopez said she hopes the students see the value of the program as they look back.

"In 10 years I’d like them to be happy with their life. Whatever it is, for them to feel successful," she said. "I hope in 10 years they’re giving back to the community."