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All across Michigan, families and students have celebrated high school graduation. Earning that high school diploma is a building block to higher education, apprenticeships, a job or military service. We have all seen the statistics in the difference in earnings and the social outcomes of completing high school.

Why then, do some students decide to drop out? As an educator with nearly 30 years experience I have found that the most common reason is that students don’t understand the “why” of school. Why do I have to learn this? When will I ever use this subject in real life? How does school connect to what I might want to do?

When these questions get answered, the magic happens. This year our district partnered with a program called Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates, administered in partnership by Southeast Michigan Community Alliance and Youth Solutions, Inc, a statewide non-profit focused on ensuring Michigan’s young people win in education, employment, and as citizens. JMG works with students who are at risk of dropping out or not successfully transitioning post-graduation. By partnering with workforce development agencies and the business community, students get the “why” answered. By combining mentoring, career exploration, employability skills training, student-led leadership, job placement services, financial literacy, and a myriad of other services, students are connecting to the future. They are excited. They are challenged. They see a clear path. They get the “why.”

In our building I have seen many students engage in leadership and school in general for the first time as a result of Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates. It is an amazing program that I believe every student in Michigan should experience. In many ways, JMG is becoming the centerpiece of our school. This is truly a partnership that works.

It is easy to play the blame game in education. JMG’s data in Michigan demonstrates a graduation rate of 97 percent for last year, while the State’s average is closer to 80 percent. Furthermore, 92 percent of these JMG graduates were experiencing a positive outcome in employment, postsecondary education/training, or the military. Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates works. It works for students, it works for schools, and it works for communities. It is the missing piece that counselors, due to high student ratios and increasing need to support mental health, often don’t have time to provide.

It fills the vital career counseling space that all students need. In my 15 years in alternative education, JMG is far and away the most valuable program I have experienced for engaging the disengaged and giving all students direction. I have found that the JMG program is providing the framework for what many of us have wanted to see locally and across Michigan for many years.

Graduation is truly a time to celebrate and look forward to the future. For some it is on to college while many others choose to go directly to a skilled career or pursue other passions. Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates is helping to make this positive impact happen and transforming schools and students across our state. It’s why the “why’s have it.” 

Kevin Lane is principal of Starkweather Academy Adult and Alternative High School in Plymouth.

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