RUMFORD — Robert Machado says the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program has helped him set academic goals and make improvements to his English class test scores.

“The first goal that I actually (set) in here was to start getting a 3.5 or higher on each English test,” said Machado, a senior at Mountain Valley High School.

“And so far, I’ve managed to do that. I actually got my first 4 in two years.”

When asked how the program helps him in his academic work, he gives a lot of credit to his JMG teacher, Job Specialist Larry Thornton, and to what he has learned about the value of academics through the program.

“I was kind of that kid who was like, I did the bare minimum in class,” Machado said, “but after coming in here, my view on why academics is so important became clear to me. I’d say, like a kid in a shell, JMG brings that kid out of its shell.”

The nonprofit program at MVHS got its start during the last three weeks of spring semester last school year, when Thornton was able to begin recruiting students who MVHS Principal Matt Gilbert thought would benefit from it.

Dean of Students Jim Aylward, guidance counselor Trina Fortin and several teachers also recommend students who they think would be good fits for the program, Thornton said.

“Mostly, it was these (administrators) and teachers who saw that some of the students needed some help with certain things, in regard to their future, and they thought this (program) would be a good mix for them,” Thornton said.

The program has been recognized by Jobs for America’s Graduates as “the best program of its kind in the nation for the past 23 years,” and JMG has 131 programs in Maine, including 84 high school programs, 23 middle school programs and 12 college success programs.

Student performance outcomes listed on JMG literature show the four-year graduation rate for Maine students in the program has exceeded the rate for other students — 90 percent to 87 percent.

The senior high school graduation rates of JMG students is also higher, at 97 percent versus 87 percent.

JMG students continuing on to post-secondary education enrollment, however, were listed as slightly lower than general education Maine graduates, at 56 percent versus 62 percent.

“JMG is very proud of our student outcomes, including the post-secondary enrollment rate,” said Lisa Gardner, JMG’s director of stewardship.

“When you consider the barriers our students face, a post-secondary enrollment rate of 56 percent is significant and reflects the potential and determination of our students.

“In fact, just three years ago, this growth caught the attention of political leaders across the state, and JMG was charged by Maine’s legislature to develop and implement the state’s first college bridging, retention and degree-attainment program. JMG’s College Success Program (CSP) is now on 10 college campuses throughout Maine.”

Back in his JMG classroom, Thornton explained that when he begins his class with students, they sit down, one-on-one, and go over their academic goals.

The students are asked, “What do you want to achieve in school now or in the future?”

“After we go over academic goals,” Thornton said, “we talk about, OK, how are you going to achieve that?’ And we’ll set specific, small, achievable goals.”

Although Thornton works closely with his students, he said he does not necessarily tutor them. Instead, he helps them get the academic help they need and guides them toward improving their school work.

“The biggest part of JMG is helping them for their future,” Thornton said.

Averie Pingree, a junior at MVHS, is another of Thornton’s 18 JMG students. Pingree is a football player at the school who said the team and his grades are his main focuses lately. And he values and appreciates what he has learned in his JMG class.

“I never really had in mind where I could get a job or how to get a job in general, and when I heard about this class I took it to (my) advantage and I was thinking to myself, ‘If I get in this class it’s gonna bring up a whole new network of information for me,” Pingree said.

“I’ll have a good job, know how to pay bills when I get older and do all of those things. I mean, it’s truly a blessing to have this class. Some schools don’t even have this at all, so I’m lucky to have that to get what I need.”

Pingree added that in order to play on the football team, he must keep his grades up and stay in good standing in his classes. He said time spent with his JMG teacher helps him stay focused and on top of his goals.

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Larry Thornton, left, job specialist with the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program at  Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, with senior Robert Machado and junior Averie Pingree at the end of a recent school day. (Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times)