An Inside Look at Jesup’s Popular J-CAPS Program

The Jesup Caps or J-Caps program has been alive for nearly three years and is nearing its sixth semester of implementation in the Jesup Community Schools system.

Paul Rea, the Jesup Community Schools Principal and Allyson Kitch, the J-Caps teacher, explained more about the popular new program.

According to Rea, the J-Caps program is available to Juniors and Seniors who have met basic requirements such as being enrolled in school, and being able to make the commitment to a large chunk of school time.

The program spans three class periods and is worth three high school credits to compensate and a Hawkeye Community College course credit. The J-Caps program does allow Dunkerton Schools to send students to participate in the program as well.

Anyone can read about the J-Caps program in the pamphlet offered to explain the program, but none compares to the description from the person that teaches the program.

“It is a program unlike any other program we offer, for students to build a network of professionals that they can keep connections with, explore career opportunities through shadows and internships,” said Kitch. “They also get to see the real-world workforce side of things through doing real projects with businesses. It helps students to see what comes from the classroom and how it is applied in the workforce.”

According to Rea, what sets this program apart from other courses offered at the school is the time commitment, the name that students are called and that the program is housed off campus.

“First off, they are not called students, they are associates, said Rea. We do career exploration, and develop networks, one of the big components of Caps in Iowa is that it is housed outside of the school in the Cowork 591 building in Jesup. Each day the associates flip an internal switch when entering the class because they are in a more professional setting.”

What helped get the J-Caps program up and running was that Jesup high school became a part of the Cedar Valley Northeast Caps consortium, said Rea.

“We had been as an admin group meeting often,” said Rea. “We had been talking about a work-based learning program, and how we could bring those to the schools. We wanted to provide opportunities for students to use what they learn in school in a real-world environment. We looked at a lot of different models, but the Caps model in Cedar Falls was the most enticing, and the group decided that that model was most sustainable for a small district like ours.”

According to Rea, the initial funding for the program came from a grant from the state of Iowa.

“After the grant kickstarted the program, the district has continued funding J-Caps,” said Rea. “Farmers State Bank and Heartland Technology had a huge part in the program by providing for us. Without them, I’m not sure how we could have gotten started.”

As for expenses, according to Rea, the only expenses come from Kitch’s salary and the membership cost for the Cedar Valley Caps.

“We pay to be members of the Cedar Valley Caps, that membership is $7000 a semester but we have lots of ways to allocate that cost,” said Rea. “The district pays the majority of that cost. Other than that, Allyson’s salary is one of the only expenses. She was teaching business classes but now teaches the J-Caps program.”

According to Rea, if someone gives the program a project and there is a cost, the business pays the cost.

When a business puts a project on the board, we ask that business to have three meetings with the students or associates to talk about the product, one initially, halfway through, and then when we present the completed project. We only ask for 5 hours from the businesses in person.

Kitch says, the J-Caps program looks to add value to the business. The goal is for the business to not create a project for the students. It is supposed to be a value-added project something that needs to be done that the business does not have done.

“When someone puts a project on the board, says Kitch. “We ask that business to have three meetings with the associates to talk about the product. One initially, a second halfway through the project, and then when we present the completed project that is the third. We only ask for 5 hours of in-person time from the businesses.”

Kitch says the real investment for the company or business is the time they are putting into the students, the money or cost from the project is the same as if someone from the company was completing it.

“We cap at 15 associates per semester,” said, Kitch. “The agreement is 10 Jesup students and 5 Dunkerton students. Obviously, there are times we can change those rules but that’s our rule. We usually hit 15, but on average 13 students a semester, there is only one caps class per semester. After each semester a new class comes through. So, we look at just about 30 students come through a year.”

Rea finds that one unique thing about the Cedar Valley Caps program, is that all students involved in the program from a variety of schools can work on the same project.

“If a business gets on our planning board,” said Rea.” All the Cedar Valley Caps programs are able to work on the same program. Because of this, there have been a lot of interesting stories that have emerged from our programs, every experience is unique because projects are always different.”

Rea says that there are five standards on which the associates are graded throughout their semester in the J-Caps program.

“We have five standards that the students are evaluated on throughout the program, said Rea. “The five main areas are servant leadership, (are thinking of others, listening and implementing those things), developing as a professional (dressing professionally, acting professionally), They are evaluated on emerging innovators ( thinking critically when it comes to obstacle or conflict.), Effective communicating (we are working with business so communicating effectively, learning to make professional and quick calls, emails, or zoom calls), Finding purpose ( reflecting on themselves and finding what they are good at.)”

Kitch says that UNI has a Caps scholarship for students who have gone through the program, but that’s not the only reason that students should strive to be a part of the problem.

“I think it is a program like no other, said Kitch. “If you were to talk to any past student who took the program, each one has a different story and outcome. The things they take away are so positive when they learn about themselves, or professional development, the entire idea is self-exploration which you normally don’t get in a high school course. The most common phrase I have heard from past students is ‘you get out what you put in.’ We have a school showcase at the end of each semester, and Cedar Valley does a showcase at the end of the year. If you listen to these student presents you are just shocked at the growth and that they are only in high school.”

Rea knows that the J-Caps program will always have certain partners but looks forward to who else the program might interact with.

“We are always open to new businesses working with the program, but we will always be working with FSB and Heartland tech,” said Rea. “We also work a lot with the ISU Extension Office, the Buchanan County Health Center, Bank Iowa, Habitat for Humanity, and House of Hope in Waterloo. We also always have projects with the City of Jesup, we are always trying to reach Dunkerton businesses. Some of the others we expect to work more with in the future are Innovative Wealth out of Jesup, which has been instrumental in our program so far.”

This article was originally published in the Independence Bulletin Journal here.