Wilkes Central High School is among seven high schools statewide that will benefit from an $825,000 grant from the NC Job Ready workforce development initiative, announced Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday.

The grant will be administered by the N.C. Department of Commerce to support the Communities in Schools’ Jobs for North Carolina’s Graduates (JNCG) program in the seven high schools.

The program, in its third year of operation, focuses on transitioning high school juniors and seniors from high school into employment, post-secondary education or military enlistment.

JNCG emphasizes employability and workplace skills that employers have identified as essential for today’s careers. Students in the program work to master workplace competencies such as communications, teamwork, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving with the goal of staying in school through graduation, pursuing post-secondary education/training, and securing quality, entry-level jobs leading to career advancement opportunities.

Cooper said JNCG has already helped students graduate from high school, “ready to succeed and build a bright future. As this program enters its second phase, it is more important than ever that we engage employers and workforce development partners so that we can meet the needs of businesses while connecting students with training and careers.”

At Wilkes Central and the other six participating high schools, a JNCG college and career coach works with school leaders to identify students at risk of not completing high school or successfully transitioning into training or the labor market because of academic, economic, family and/or personal barriers.

The coach works with 35-45 students to help them gain workplace competencies that comprise the National High School Employability Curriculum developed by the Jobs for America’s Graduates national network. The coaches are trained to prepare students to achieve academic, career and life success.

Dustin Foster is the JNCG college and career coach at Wilkes Central. He teaches two classes in the program. Foster also follows up with students in the program after they graduate.

Since 2017, one cohort of students has completed the full JNCG program. It consists of one year in school and one year of follow-up. A second cohort has completed the in-school portion of the program.

The two cohorts combined have a 98% high school graduation rate. JNCG staff continue providing support to participating students after graduation to help them enter into full-time post-secondary education, employment leading to careers, or a combination of the two.

The program also works directly with employers to expose students to careers in their community and across the state.

JNCG staff developed partnerships with companies such as Honeywell, GE Aviation, Harris Teeter, Duke Energy and many local businesses who are investing resources, talent and knowledge to provide experiences for students in the classroom and on-the-job.

Activities include career awareness, career exploration and real-world career experience, such as internship opportunities.

Career coaches in the seven schools also partner with local workforce development boards and community colleges to connect students with available resources.

Continuing to strengthen such partnerships will be a focus of the program during this and the 2020-21 school years, stated a press release.

The other six high schools in the program are Concord High School, Henderson County Career Academy, Northwest Halifax Collegiate and Technical Academy, Purnell Swett High School (in Robeson County) Wallace-Rose Hill High School (in Duplin County) and Walter M. Williams High School (in Alamance County).

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