Windham High School Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) students learn more than just academics in a unique partnership between the school and the nonprofit organization. The JMG elective offers students the chance to learn practical life skills and find the unique talents that each one of them possesses despite facing barriers to education.
Dave Berrang is the JMG specialist at Windham High School. The course is available to students from freshman to seniors. There are four essential elements to the program, said Berrang. These components – career exploration, leadership, community service and social awareness - serve as the broad heading under which the students explore their academic world and connect with their purpose and life after high school, he said. There are 43 students at the high school participating in the course.
On April 30th, thirteen students travelled to Augusta to attend the Career Development Conference, an annual statewide JMG event. Organized like a traditional trade show, this event featured competitions in a variety of categories, from booth design to decision making, public speaking to presentations among others. Out of the 10 competition categories, the Windham team brought home eight trophies, including a first place, four second place and three third place wins.
Though only juniors and seniors attended the conference, all of the students enrolled in the course participated in the preparation for the day. Students were so committed to the project that a large number of them came in over school break, voluntarily, to work on it, or did work at home while on vacation, said Berrang. Full participation from all class members was key, he said, particularly in the booth design, and they all stepped up to the challenge. “It would have been very easy for those students not going to just check out, and no one did.”
Their booth featured a gallery of success, said Austin Walsh. Each person selected someone they considered successful and wrote a biography of that person. They also chose one thing about themselves and how they are successful in their own way, then displayed the results on presentation boards, Walsh explained.
The CDC offered students a chance to try new things, and gain confidence in many areas. Jesse Malier said that while he doesn’t like public speaking, it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. “I think it helped me get better at it,” he said.
Deanna Mitchell said she enjoyed how the group became a team at the convention. “All of us were from such different groups of friends and people, none of us really talked,” she said. “It was just really crazy how all of us came together and won that many trophies, and now we’re all friends.”
Katie Whitney added that she found it cool how during the trophy ceremony, when Windham was announced as winners, everyone was hugging and high-fiving each other. “We didn’t do that before,” she said.
Berrang said the competitions were thoughtful and challenging, requiring a team to function well as a group. He was most proud, he said, of the fact that despite differing opinions everyone respected the decisions made and worked with the chosen ideas well. “Everyone did that to their fullest, which really speaks to the maturity of the group, and the cohesive nature of the group,” he said.
Another major project this year was a partnership with middle school students around career exploration at Hancock Lumber. JMG students served as mentors for 12 eighth graders. This initiative began with a team building day, where the high school students were able to offer insights on their experiences to the younger students. The group then learned about careers at Hancock Lumber, and how the company functions as a community with a broad range of jobs to suit many interests. Thirty students went on a tour of the saw mill in Casco. The project will culminate in a pizza party and creation of a thank you poster for Hancock Lumber.
JMG helped throughout the year, Whitney said, with getting jobs, getting into college and knowing what you are doing once you get into college. She said that if the program had been offered at Windham High School before this year, she probably would have done it for more than just her senior year.
Matt Sayah said JMG helps them learn things that other classes don’t teach such as how to fill out job applications and write a resume. “It helps us with after school, how to get a job and succeed in life,” he said.
Mitchell said her favorite part of JMG is the way Berrang teaches. “It helps us learn. It’s not the same pressure another class would be,” she said. While the group is still focused and doing their work, she said it feels more relaxed. “I like it a lot better and I feel like I learn a lot better,” she added.
Athena Shanahan said that JMG helps with more than just job skills, but also in learning things she will need to know as she becomes an adult. “It helps with being social, being able to cope in an adult environment, even though we’re just starting,” she said.
“The cohesive nature of the group is really wonderful,” said Berrang. “The class is really designed to teach life skills but also assist the student in uncovering their own resiliencies and their attributes and gifts they have that they don’t even know they have,” he said.