SKOWHEGAN — When Matthew Clark became the Jobs For Maine’s Graduates specialist in 2015, the statewide program then served about 5,000 students.

Now, about five years after Clark started, the program is serving over 10,000 students across the state. During the 2018-2019 school year, the JMG program served 4,000 students in Franklin, Somerset and upper Kennebec counties alone. The program recently expanded to Skowhegan Area Middle School.

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is a program that partners public schools and community colleges to help students explore career opportunities with the help of mentors and local businesses. According to the program’s website, JMG increases high school graduation rates, college retention and degree attainment by preparing students for careers after graduation.

“We really work with students and local businesses and private organizations to really give students a chance to gain credentials and pursue the careers that they are interested in,” Clark said. “And we also get them involved with different community partners and really work to send them off into the future with the skill set that is needed for them to be successful.”

The program is an elective course that fits into students day-to-day class schedule. Students must apply and be accepted into the program; any students within grades six through 12 in Maine School Administrative District 54 are eligible to apply. Being in the program gives students from Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgework, Skowhegan and Smithfield an opportunity to explore leadership roles, job shadow and work with one another through team-building exercises.

Alysa LeClair, 17, of Canaan Morning Sentinel photo by Taylor Abbott

“JMG has helped me break out of that shell that I was in,” Alysa LeClair, 17, of Canaan, said.

LeClair joined her sophomore year after a friend recommended it. Now a junior, LeClair has held a leadership role within the program, community service and completed three job shadows at Redington-Fairview General Hospital; in the human resources department, with a general surgeon and an emergency room nurse.

“I realized that I am more of a giving person,” LeClair said. “I’m more comfortable talking to random people. And I am much more confident asking questions in class, because I don’t care about what other people thought, because other people have these questions too. The people inside of JMG are amazing. They’re really kind and funny, and we all have the same ambitions, so you get along much better. And it’s just an easy clique, which isn’t always so easy to find in high school.”

After graduation, LeClair says that she wants to attend Kennebec Valley Community College and then the University of Maine to finish a nursing degree. She aspires to work in an emergency room.

“It’s something different every day,” LeClair said. “It wasn’t the same thing every day, and that’s what I want.”

Sadie Abbott, 18, of Canaan Morning Sentinel photo by Taylor Abbott

Sadie Abbott, 18, also joined JMG as a sophomore. Now a senior, Abbott says that the program has opened the door to several different career options for her, including international education, physical therapy assisting, international business and traveling opportunities. She has done job shadows at Geiger in Lewiston as well as for a local nurse.

“I was a very shy student, and I stuck to myself a lot,” Abbott said. “I didn’t really talk to a lot of people until I started this class. I was sort of forced to get out of my shell by doing team-building activities and working with people I normally wouldn’t, and it really helped me. I’m more confident.”

Skowhegan’s JMG program maintains a partnership with Skowhegan Savings Bank. Donna Fortin, the vice president of deposit relations manager, says that though the partnership was announced in 2015, their roots go back to 2012 when a financial literacy fair was hosted in partnership with the program.

“(JMG) goes along with Skowhegan Savings’ mission to make our communities a better place to live and work,” Fortin said.

Tracie Travers, director of workforce development at JMG, says that the partnership with Skowhegan Savings is a tremendous support for the program.

“Skowhegan Savings is a community bank. And what they saw was the businesses in their community needing more people with workforce skills, but also more people being financially aware and financially capable, which is why they reached out to JMG,” Travers said.

Since September 2019, students in JMG across Franklin, Somerset and upper Kennebec counties have completed 250 job shadows, not including career days or career fairs.

Mikayla White, 15, of Skowhegan Morning Sentinel photo by Taylor Abbott

Mikayla White, a sophomore, heard about the program when she was in middle school through a presentation given by Clark and high school students that were already in the program. Before joining the program, White thought that she wanted to be a surgeon. Her father has worked in legal and medical fields, and she thought it would be a good fit.

After doing a job shadow at Skowhegan Police Department, White says that she know sees herself eventually working within the law enforcement realm, though she does want to explore the medical field.

“I think JMG has helped me a lot with where I want to be,” White said. “I was shy in the beginning, but then I saw how everything worked out, and I opened up a little bit more.”

“Having been involved, I get to observe students through mock interviewing; the confidence that I see in these folks is amazing,” Fortin said. “I look at myself back when I was their age and I was not confident like that. I’ve done a lot of interviewing for my job in the past, but I don’t see the confidence that I see in the students that have gone through the JMG program.”

“The support has been great from Skowhegan Savings, and just having the opportunity for these guys to go around and actually see the growth over the past couple of years is awesome,” Clark, the JMG specialist, said. “It would not be possible without these job shadows; it’s been a great opportunity to see the students develop a path that is meaningful to them.”


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