Highland Home students advance to JAG nationals

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Jobs for Alabama’s Graduates (JAG) held its State Career Development Conference in Birmingham on March 7 at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. JAG chapters from across Alabama, including 30 students from the Highland Home School, participated in workshops, leadership activities, competitions, and award ceremonies, and listened to guest speakers at the event.

Eight Highland Home students who attended the conference also qualified to compete at the JAG Graduates National Career Development Conference to be held April 19-23 in Orlando, Florida.

Highland Home’s JAG chapter also achieved a remarkable feat, winning two first-place state titles at the competition – the only school in the state to do so.

JAG instructor Leslie Flowers said that the significant accomplishment reflects the students’ commitment to succeed.

“These students have overcome fears of public speaking, and not only have they overcome but are now excelling at presenting their ideas to strangers,” Flowers said. “This is a baseline function of highly successful people in our world, and they can now understand the importance of the power in words and how they are presented. Their new knowledge will make them better at interviewing, communicating, and even leading others. These students have opened the avenue to have two national titles and that’s what we are working toward.”

The team from the school to take the national stage consisted of senior Dayana Acosta, sophomore Savannah Edgar, junior Amber Majors, and sophomore Cheyenne Kinman. The students competed in the National Career Association (NCA) Knowledge Bowl event, which tested student’s knowledge of job readiness skills, workplace ethics, and professionalism. The students will defend their national title and compete for their sixth consecutive first-place win.

Also traveling to Orlando for nationals will be seniors Haley Burrage, Troy Kelley, and Wyatt Garrard, and also junior Skyler Stokes, who participated in the Lifting Our Voices for Equity (L.O.V.E.) project.

The L.O.V.E project encourages youth to identify challenges in their community and work collectively to make change, ultimately working toward creating a more inclusive world. Each team gave a presentation that answered the questions, “Where do inequities show up in your community?” and “What can you do to create positive change?.”

The students elected to highlight the “calm corner” located in the school’s JAG room. The students agreed that with a few changes the “calm corner,” operational several months before being adopted as the mission of the L.O.V.E. project, could be expanded to meet a wider variety of needs. The students hope to perfect the area and provide a safe space for themselves and their peers to gain composure before they react to certain situations.

Features were added to the area to promote calmness and peace: barrier walls for privacy, soft lighting, zen garden, journal notebooks, fidget toys, adult coloring books, radio, earbuds, weighted blanket, inspirational books for teens, a diffuser with scented oils, a comfy bean bag chairs,area rug, and a small fountain.

Included in the team’s presentation were student testimonials about the “calm corner.” Each comment pointed to the fact the space can truly lower anxiety and heightened emotions.

“The ‘calm corner’ has helped me in more ways than one since it was introduced…,” one student said. “The ‘calm corner’ has helped me to think things through rationally and to not make any decisions I would regret.”

According to Burrage, whose older sister was also a JAG national competitor, her team demonstrated the creativity, critical thinking, and strong presentation skills needed to impress the judges and secure a first place win in the L.O.V.E. project division. She stressed the immense amount of motivation the students receive from Flowers and stated that Flowers has been a huge part of her progress.

“Being able to work together and lead each other has been great and I think it shows,” Burrage said. “We’re preparing for nationals by just perfecting our presentation and keeping it fresh on our minds. All this preparation led by Mrs. Flowers not only teaches us things we will need for the competition, but we also learn a lot of things we will need to know when we enter the workforce or start college. She pushes us to be the best we can be in competitions and in all parts of life. She has helped to open many doors for me and with our ’calm corner’ has given me a place to come when I need to take a minute to myself. I plan to attend Lurleen B. Wallace Community College for forestry and I am sure what I have learned in JAG will help me decide which forestry-related jobs I am interested in.”