Ariana Espinoza, 18, knows the ins and outs of effective communication, teamwork and leadership. She knows how to format a resume and dress for a job interview. Espinoza exhibits employability skills many young adults her age don’t — and she attributes those skills to the Jobs for Arizona Graduates (JAG) program at La Joya High School and Catherine Garcia, La Joya JAG coordinator.
The JAG Program — available at every high school in the Tolleson Union High School District (TUHSD) — is a class that prepares juniors and seniors for postsecondary opportunities through “Programs of Work,” which focus on four areas: leadership, social awareness, career development and community service.
At the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, Garcia and her JAG students designed their “Program of Work,” outlining school and community-based projects they wanted to complete as a class. And because they check off everything on their “Program of Work,” La Joya was named “JAG Program of the Year” at the annual JAG Luncheon in April — claiming the title for the second year in a row.
Such accomplishment speaks to the students’ level of commitment, JAG President Graciela Garcia Candia said.
“(La Joya students) take this program very seriously, and that takes a lot from a young person. They have to commit to staying focused on their academics, improving attendance, being successful, along with dedicating time to the club,” Candia said. “But these kids embraced it.”
At the luncheon, La Joya JAG students presented a scrapbook showcasing all of their projects including food and blood drives, their PBL (public based learning) event — where they worked with Tomorrow We Vote, a nonpartisan organization, and registered 269 students to vote — and their “Make a Difference” day, where they painted a local resident’s home.
Not only did their book impress the judges, but Candia added the La Joya JAG students stood out for another reason as well — their demeanor.
“They walked in with their professional attitude. They were very respectful,” she said. “That’s why the judges also gave them the professionalism award of the year.”
Espinoza, who was a new student at La Joya when she joined JAG, said her senior year experience would’ve been different without the program.
“In my old school, I didn’t really have involvement. I just went to my classes and then went home. Here, I dedicate more time. I stay after school,” she said.
Espinoza plans to attend Estrella Mountain Community College in the fall, and she said if it weren’t for JAG and the resources Garcia connected her with, it would’ve taken her longer to enroll.
Garcia, who Espinoza described as “a second mom,” said her graduating students are ready to take on anything.
“I just feel like they’re very prepared,” she said. “I’m happy to see what the future holds for them.”
And for her next group of JAG students, Garcia said she will encourage them to continue La Joya’s “Program of the Year” legacy.
“I feel like the bar has been raised. It’s positive peer pressure where they make each other accountable to be here, not just in our program, but in their studies as well,” she said.
“We will continue to be competitive and work really hard.”