Balancing tasks and keeping focused. These qualities are key to the success of both State Senator Nicole Poore and the statewide organization she leads, Jobs for Delaware Graduates (JDG). The nonprofit’s ambitious mission is to “enable students to achieve academic, career, personal and social success.” For too many Delaware students, unfortunately, these things seem out of reach — until they cross paths with the teacher/coach “specialists” from JDG. With some JDG teachers clocking as many as 500 volunteer hours each year, it is no surprise that the program has reached over 56,000 students across the state.
In her year and a half at the helm of JDG, Sen. Poore has sought to broaden the scope and efficiency of the program. TSD recently sat down with Sen. Poore to learn more about what brought her to JDG and the her plans to help bring larger numbers of disadvantaged Delawareans into college and the workplace.
Town Square Delaware: Jobs for Delaware Graduates has been around for a long time — since 1979. Has the mission changed or evolved over the years?
Nicole Poore: It absolutely has. For a Governor (Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont) to know way back when that we needed these additional services, I can’t imagine what he must think today that 37 years later this organization is not only so desperately needed, but that the services have expanded into the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade levels. The reality is that the barriers don’t start for a child only after 9th grade, but before, and for the way education has evolved, JDG is needed even more.
TSD: What inspired you to enter politics? And to work with education?
NP: In terms of politics, I was asked to run. If I could spend the rest of my life just helping people that would be great! And so I knew that if I could win the senate seat that it could give me the vehicle I needed to help people. Becoming a senator gave me the opportunity to sit on the Education Committee, so I’m deeply involved in education, and in finding the right balance between parents, teachers, and superintendents and creating a partnership between all three. Our demands in education are increasing and parents are trying to wrap arms around these changes. I truly believe in the students and in what we can do to prepare them for a successful life.
TSD: We know that the “soft skills” – such as strong attendance, listening well, speaking well, teamwork, and respect – are very important for students who desire to go to college or land a job. And yet students who face barriers to success might be challenged in some of these areas. In what ways do you teacher ‘specialists’ assist students?
NP: The essence of our program focuses on four areas: employment, finance, life, and workplace. These specialists have their own office in their respective schools. For example, our JDG specialists help students build resumes, by giving them the opportunity to fill these resumes with experiences, as opposed to just giving them the tool. We also focus on leadership; there are several JDG ‘officers’ who are voted for by their peers to maintain the program’s club in schools, Delaware Career Association (DCA). JDG also highlights finance and budgeting – we partner with Junior Achievement’s BizTown and expose students to healthy decision-making. We do a lot of different things to overcome students’ barriers, and it’s not just simply being based in the classroom. We provide them with the opportunity to participate in clubs like DCA, work with their peers, and interact with over a thousand other students in the program who may face similar barriers.
TSD: In this economic climate, how important is JDG’s role in helping high school seniors and graduates? And what are some of the ways JDG assists students with job hunting and job survival?
NP: It’s really important for every student, not just those involved in JDG. But we do serve a purpose for those students at risk, whether their barriers be financial, academic, or otherwise. JDG itself is also a career pathway in these high schools! In 2015 to 2016 we had 96% of the students who were in JDG come back. If a student is in the program for three years, they can get credit for it and graduate with JDG being their career pathway. What we are doing is presenting, and helping students with, a ‘model’ that we open up to schools.
TSD: How do you measure the program’s impact?
NP: The program has been so successful that it is now in 32 states, and we have reached over 56,000 students in Delaware alone. I’m so proud of all of the students. Not every year do we have students who are continuing on to college – we realize that. College is not for everyone. But that is where JDG comes into play; we follow a students a year after they graduate, and we measure outcomes. In 2014 we had a 94% graduation rate. In 2015 we had a 93% graduation rate. Across the country we have reached over one million students and have seen great results.
TSD: What is your vision for the next few years?
NP: My vision for the next couple of years is to have our funding become diversified, increase our profile, and make sure we are reaching out to as many people as we possibly can. Also, continuing to make our program solid, enhancing our curriculum, and making sure we have the right leadership in classrooms. I think we are the best hidden secret in the state of Delaware.