J4NG doubling efforts to help students find career pathway

Dr. René Cantú is executive director of the state’s Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (J4NG) program.

Dr. René Cantú is executive director of the state’s Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates (J4NG) program.
Courtesy Photo

Overcoming learning loss isn’t just a national problem but one that statewide nonprofit Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates is looking ahead to helping with, Dr. René Cantú, executive director of the program, says.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on younger students between Northern and Southern Nevada has brought together teams of educators for the J4NG who are using technology and tools to better assist with workforce development and put the state’s students on a better path for career opportunities, Cantú said.

“COVID brought many challenges to our students,” he said. “We have had to deal with learning loss and it’s going to be a new school year. It is a national problem where students didn’t learn as much.”

Locally, Pioneer High School’s own job placement outcome in the past few months has been “strong,” Cantú said, with specialist Coraleigh Bales assisting. Pioneer maintains its in-person graduation rate of 100% through J4NG. Cantú reported the program overall has achieved a 97.3% graduation rate accounting for 803 students across the state.

But J4NG’s specialists are working to alleviate schoolteachers’ added burden, Cantú said, of getting kids back on track academically and socially.

“That’s just a tough year with COVID, and we’ve doubled our efforts to help the students that we service and we got through,” Cantú said. “We will be able to continue to serve the same number of students going into the biennium through our Workforce Pathways program.”

Recently, the program announced it received a $725,000 grant to launch Workforce Pathways for Youth coming from the U.S. Department of Labor. Four affiliate states – Nevada, Ohio, Michigan and California – are working to address the learning loss resulting from the pandemic. The Workforce Pathways will last three years of service and totals approximately $5 million and is meant to engage Nevada’s teens in pursuing their career choice.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who serves as a national board member for Jobs for America’s Graduates, praised the state effort.

“The J4NG program has proven to achieve some of the highest success rates with its students across the state, which shows that Nevada’s youth are some of the most capable, hard-working and talented of their peers,” Sisolak said. “With this federal grant funding, J4NG will be able to connect even more youth in every corner of the state to jobs and career training opportunities, ensuring that more young Nevadans enter our workforce as skilled workers who will help drive Nevada’s growing, diverse economy.”

Cantú said J4NG is engaging Nevada’s students post-COVID through technology to help lower dropout rates and give them greater support for any workforce opportunities they’re seeking.

“COVID brought the team together, and we are a statewide program, and we serve 15 counties out of the 17 with Zoom and technology,” Cantú said.

The grant gives J4NG opportunities to offer students to apprenticeships, certificate programs, internships, employment, job and post-secondary training. And with all that J4NG continues to do with its partnerhips with Tesla and other businesses and community colleges, Cantú said everything that makes the nonprofit unique should help see an increase an enrollment in the months ahead.

He also said building on mentorships for students is key.

“It makes all the difference having our JAG specialists in the lives of our students,” he said. “There are teachers and mentors. Having a caring JAG specialist in the life of a student has helped them to weather these times. As the year ended, so many of our students were totally bummed, and they were done with the hybrid model. Some of our kids were demoralized.”

But school districts offering their summer programs, he said, has been a “gamechanger” to allow students to catch up and regain or rebuild their skills and confidence again.

“Some of them just go and hang out for credit retrieval,” he said. “Our JAG specialists are seeing how they’re doing periodically. They’re making sure they’re on the road to recovery, and they’re optimistic. We’ll get to a better place that we’ll come out of this crisis for the whole globe.”

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