As a new student at West Point HS in her sophomore year, JAG came into Ixchel Garcia’s life at the perfect time. Mr. Klem, her French teacher then, was also a coordinator for JAG. After being introduced to the program, she thought it would be a great opportunity to break out of her shell and become a part of a community in this new environment. Ixchel was also motivated by her father’s advice to take a chance on opportunities that come her way.
Fast-forward to her senior year, she was now president of her JAG class and a University of Phoenix LEADS. While JAG played a part in offering her the tools to grow into these roles, ultimately her own resilience, love for community, and willingness to explore outside of her comfort zone became her biggest motivators.
“I never saw myself as someone who would stand in front of people and offer direction.…I don’t like talking to people to this day, but I started to warm up to it.”
In her LEADS role, she valued learning more about the behind-the-scenes of event planning with JAG staff for the year-round student leadership conferences and community events. She applied what she learned with them to her own class activities, such as the JAG-A-Palooza and I&I—two of her favorite events.
The 2021 West Point JAG-A-Palooza was her last before graduating. So, she made it the best it could be. When it was time for the showcase event, she had a full-circle moment when she saw her teacher from 7th grade there, now a West Point staff member, learning about JAG. It was heart-warming for her because that teacher remembered her after so many years and even shared how proud they were of her growth.
And at the very end of the JAG-A-Palooza event, she had the opportunity to bring her class together and reflect upon the importance of this event for them.
“It just came out so naturally—I can’t even recreate it. My favorite line was ‘Senior JAG program, this was our last JAG-A-Palooza and it helped set an example for our juniors and sophomores, so now next year it’s going to be their last one, although this year was the first one.’ It was a bittersweet moment.”
Ixchel’s second favorite event that she led was the I&I, an event where each JAG program inducts student leaders for the program and brings families together to witness the inspiring occasion. She enjoyed writing the script for the event and seeing her friends and JAG family share their stories.
The last two years of high school for her certainly weren’t easy, and that’s what made those events and her leadership roles even more special. During her junior and senior years, she lost her grandparents. She shut down in her junior year and didn’t know how to share with her coordinator what she was going through. Her grandma was her best friend, so it was difficult for her to eat or focus on anything else.
When her grandpa died in her senior year, she shared what she had been going through with her coordinator. Mr. Klem was a great support and helped her express her feelings by suggesting that she use writing as a way to connect with them again spiritually. This helped her tremendously and even became one of her coping habits.
“If you have lost someone, always have their spirit with you,” Ixchel shared. “The first and only picture in my room is a picture of my grandparents. I also like to keep their spirit alive by cooking and baking. My grandpa was the main one that taught me how to bake. Since he had passed, I wasn’t able to bake, but then I decided to make a tres leches red velvet cake. Why? They loved tres leches, and my grandpa and I also loved red velvet. My grandpa would love whenever I would bake. This man was like ‘You are going to be a better cook than your dad one day,’ and I was like ‘Yeah, I am!’”
In her senior year, she also faced the challenge of identifying her post-graduation goals. Reflecting upon her experiences and what was important to her, she discovered that she wanted to become a kinder teacher. She was inspired by her grandma’s dream of opening a preschool, her kindergarten teacher’s kindness, and her JAG coordinators’ support.
Throughout her three years in JAG, she learned an important lesson that has helped her along the way, “What I have learned from my JAG story is that I’m a puzzle being put together piece by piece in my self-discovery journey.”
Ixchel Garcia is now studying at GCU for her Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education. She is also writing children's stories based on her grandparents’ lives and hopes to one day share those with her kindergarteners.
Read more JAG student and alum stories at our Insider News Blog.