Second-year Coolidge JAG Coordinator Michelle Gonzales was awarded the Outstanding Specialist award at Jobs for America’s Graduates’ National Training Seminar (NTS) last month. Although this past year was her first year as coordinator, she jumped right in, and for her, NTS put into perspective her goals for continuing the momentum of her program.
“This was my first in-person NTS and it was informative!” Gonzales said. “As a first-year coordinator, I had some idea, but NTS made me more comfortable with what I was doing and what the program was about. I think it gave me better guidance. This year, I’m excited because I feel more confident in my abilities and in what I am doing as a coordinator.”
Gonzales is from the Coolidge community and has been with Coolidge Unified School District for 15 years working in various capacities from office work, early-childhood education, alternative pathways, and Freshman 101 teacher. All of her experience and passion for education has led her to this moment of becoming a JAG coordinator.
“I enjoy watching young people grow and develop into responsible adults. It is one of those things that you don’t see immediately and sometimes it takes time for them to realize that,” she said. “But as they grow and develop, they start connecting those dots and they come back and share that information. I think that is one of the reasons why I love what I do.”
As an alternative pathways teacher, she brings another perspective for students who may want or need to pursue an alternative path instead of attending college immediately after high school.
“I think one thing that connects me to my students is that I am homegrown,” she said. “I actually grew up in the community, lived in the community, and graduated from this high school….Connecting with them is about sharing my personal experience and personal journey. I am an alternative pathways teacher. I graduated in 2020 with my bachelor’s and my master’s was in 2022, so that’s later for me. It wasn’t straight out of high school. I am a teen mom. So it’s about having them understand that these are obstacles that could’ve stopped me and prevented me, but they didn’t.”
In her first year as coordinator, she hit the ground running. Two highlights out of many were the community service opportunities her students engaged in and the virtual reality skills immersion project.
For community service, she collaborated with students to find opportunities for athletic events support (line judges for volleyball, timers for swim, etc.), office administrative assistance, mentorship at local elementary schools, and sorting and packaging for pantry food distribution.
While students were surprised by all the ways they could engage in their school and greater community, according to Gonzales, they were also in awe of their elevated learning experience through virtual reality.
Each grade level (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) engaged in project management and professional skills training through the skills immersion project. This project, featured in the Coolidge Examiner, was in partnership with Talespin, JFFLabs, and Systems Analysis Program Development (SAP).
Students had the chance to redesign the preset modules that were centered around professional and real-world scenarios where effective communication and collaboration were required. The final product that students designed ultimately secured a donation of 20 headsets from Talespin for their JAG program to use in years to come.
“During that project, I was really just a facilitator,” Gonzales shared. “The students are actually the ones that took charge. For them to see their work and everything they worked for become an actual module….Some students mentioned it was learning without learning because they were so focused on creating this project, they didn’t realize all the skills they were using and gaining.”
It was because of her facilitation throughout the JAG experience that students saw what education could be – an exciting process for personal and professional growth.
“The JAG program is really whatever students need it to be,” she said. “This program gives students an opportunity to provide input on what they want to learn and guide the direction of the class. What other program allows for that type of individualized learning? Everyone in the program is going to have a different takeaway because there are different needs requiring different support. My job is to find out how to support the students so they are successful.”
Read more about the professional development and learning opportunities Coolidge JAG students had this past year: