Olivia Nelson in D.C.

Published 9:17 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A delegation of Berrien, Cass and VanBuren county students enrolled in Michigan Works’ Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) classes will attend the JAG National Student Leadership Conference from Wednesday through this Sunday in Washington, D.C.
JAG is a national school-to-career transition and dropout prevention initiative, offered at Benton Harbor, Coloma, Covert, Cassopolis and Niles high schools.
It is also offered at the Michigan Works Bridge Academy and in Benton Harbor’s Fair Plain Middle School.  It is a component of YouthWorks, a comprehensive, tri-county effort to prepare young people for the workplace.
The students will join 600 other JAG students from across the country in activities to include a luncheon with political leaders, networking, skill- building activities and leadership development.
The students will also learn about American democracy as they explore Washington, D.C.’s monuments, historical sites and museums.
Michigan Works executive director, Todd Gustafson, says that while this is a great opportunity for students, the communities in which they live will also benefit.
“Our goal is to meet the needs of employers today and in the future. We know businesses in our communities will need leaders down the road.  We’re helping these young people develop into professional, dependable, employees who will be able to solve the problems businesses encounter as we move further into the 21st century.”
Niles sophomore Paul Norman says he expects to do some presentations on the trip and to talk with his peers about leadership.
Benton Harbor junior Omari Kohn says, “I expect to gain more knowledge of how to perform and act on a professional level.”
He adds he believes this experience will help him reach his career goals.
The six were selected by their teachers from 180 area students enrolled in JAG in local high schools.
“I feel really blessed about being selected to go to Washington, D.C.,” said  Le’Darren Thompson, who attends the Michigan Works Bridge Academy.
“There are a lot of people who could have gone.  I feel really good because I worked really hard to get to this point.”
Kohn agreed.
“I have a feeling of accomplishment, responsibility and excitement.  I’m proud knowing I was chosen to represent the JAG class of Benton Harbor.”
Only one of the six students has visited Washington, D.C.
“The main thing I’m looking forward to on this trip is seeing the White House with my own eyes,” said Cassopolis junior Olivia Nelson.  “Being able to be that close to the White House is a great experience.”
Kohn said visiting the home of the first African-American president will be a highlight for him.  He said he hopes to learn more about Washington, D.C., and politics.
Other students emphasize the opportunity to be in a new place and meet new people will be the best part of the trip.
“I don’t get to travel or meet new people, so I am very excited to go to D.C.,” said Brigitte Gomez, a junior at Cover High School.
Coloma freshman Esmeralda Santos said she is looking forward to getting out of her comfort zone.
The JAG program incorporates participation in community service and learning projects to develop leadership, communication and career-readiness skills that will help students graduate and successfully pursue post-secondary education or job placement.