RICHMOND — A Virginia nonprofit that helps at-risk students graduate high school and get jobs is due for its first influx of state money in a dozen years.
Jobs for Virginia Graduates received roughly $574,000 from the state for the past dozen years, but in the budget approved by lawmakers earlier this month, the program is due for $1.7 million over the next two years.
Barry Glenn, who has served as the organization’s president and CEO since 1996, said the new money will help JVG, as it’s commonly referred to, more than double its scope, expanding into 30 additional schools.
“It’s a rocky time for education right now, not just because of the virus, but because of the change from everyone needs to go to college to everybody and needs to have a job,” he said, “and that’s what we do.”
So how does the program work?
JVG is the state branch of a national group called Jobs for America's Graduates. At some schools, there’s an actual class where a teacher educates students on job skills and helps them prepare for work. There are also job specialists who work individually with students in the program and help them figure out post-graduate plans.
Once they graduate - last year, 94% of program participants graduated, according to the organization, compared with 91.5% statewide - JVG follows up with them for a year to help them with their job or college.
“We’re trying to get these kids focused early, not on a career but on the importance of a diploma,” Glenn said. “We want to make sure that when we’re finished with them, there’s a positive outcome.”
Jobs for Virginia Graduates is currently in 26 schools across the state, from Northampton High School on the Eastern Shore to Grayson County High School in Southwest Virginia to eight schools in the Richmond region.
This school year, JVG serves more than 1,000 students, split between students still in school and those who have graduated but the program stays in touch with.
Those are students like Paige Shaffer, who graduated from Manchester High School and now works for a global chemical company.
“It’s helped me out a lot,” she said. “It takes students like me, who didn’t have a secure goal for their future and exactly what they wanted to do once they got out of high school, and other students in my class, it gave us throughout the year something to make us think about what it takes to be successful and it gave us those skills and let us practice applying them before we went out into the real world.”
Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, served as the organization’s governing board’s chairman from 1996 until 2009. That body is currently led by Virginia Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax.
“It’s essential that we begin to close the so-called skills gap and this program is transformational,” Beyer said. “It’s a multi-generational effort to elevate the educational achievements of kids left behind.”
Schools originally faced a deadline of the end of March to apply for the program, but Glenn said the state Education Department has extended the deadline by a month as the coronavirus shut down schools across the state.