What does “student-led programming” mean for high school students? In Amber Heckart’s class, it means listening to the careers and opportunities that most excite her students, and finding opportunities to expose them to those companies and organizations. It’s what won her the prestigious 2023 Outstanding Specialist of the Year award by Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), a nationwide education nonprofit with 39 state affiliates. Amber was one of two Iowa educators to be recognized among a class of nearly 80 JAG educators
Rooted in serving “Every Student. No Matter What!”, the Iowa affiliate of JAG, Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG), pairs schools with impressive educators like Amber Heckart to deliver career development programming to Iowa students through leadership training, career education, individualized guidance, and employer services. Amber is a specialist at Ottumwa High School, where she goes above and beyond her regular teaching duties to ensure that students are finding the career path that aligns with their personal goals and interests.
Heckart was selected for the award not only because of her ability to improve student success inside the classroom, but also because of the opportunities she creates outside of the classroom.
After being in other areas of education for many years, Amber knew she wanted to focus on a career in college readiness and career development-especially for high school students. iJAG provides a unique opportunity to do just that.
Heckert is intentional about discovering strengths in her students. For instance, do they like to work behind the scenes? Be in the forefront? On the mic? “The smaller classroom size allows for more one-on-one time to have conversations about interests and goals. Even if a student doesn’t know what they want to do, these conversations are helpful.”
In fact, sometimes these conversations and experiences can be helpful for a student discovering what they DO NOT want to do! Heckart shared she had a student last year that was given an opportunity that led to a mock interview and later an internship offer. Given the chance to actively participate and learn in the field, this student realized they wanted to take a different path. These learning opportunities are just as valuable as the ones that work out!
Because Heckert is passionate about student-led learning and follow-through with her students, her students in turn are more likely to follow-through with her and trust the process.