State officials say a career planning program for at-risk high school students has proven to be so effective, the state is expanding it. Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson says the “Jobs for America’s Graduates” program known in Iowa as I-JAG is keeping graduation rates higher than in other states.

The program will expand in three Iowa cities this fall, and two others will get new programs. Pederson says Iowa’s “JAG” program is one of the top three in the nation. This past year, “Iowa’s Jobs for America’s Graduates” marked an all-time high graduation rate of 95-percent, better than the statewide average of 89-percent.

Ninety-one percent of the students in the program are enrolled in full-time school, work, the military or some combination of those. Pederson says the program follows the student after graduation to help them move into higher education, a job, or the military.

One of the new job specialists assigned to help students was actually a member of Iowa’s inaugural JAG program in 2000. Matt Patten says while he probably would have graduated high school without JAG, it certainly helped him go on to higher education. Patten says it taught him more about doing homework and trying to achieve at a higher level. Though his interest was in sports, he says JAG taught him the only way he’d be able to do that was by being a successful student.

Patten gives a lot of credit to the JAG counselor he had when he was attending school in Storm Lake. He says she’d have one-on-one conferences and make sure her students in the program were keeping up — and even after he went off to Iowa Central Community College that counselor would call him every week just to see that he was staying on track. He says it helped a lot to have someone outside his friends and family interested in keeping him motivated.

Patten went on from Iowa Central to graduate from UNI. He now teaches at Southeast Webster and he says he can’t wait to counsel the next generation of JAG students.

I-JAG is expanding its programs at Jefferson-Scranton, Cedar Rapids-Washington, and Marshalltown high schools… and will announce two additional start-up programs in new schools this fall.