Jobs for America’s Graduates has named Coronado High School Principal Amy Palatucci the recipient of its 2020 National Educational Leadership Award.
“It feels amazing. Really, I’m honored,” Palatucci said. “We have such a great team here, and it just feels great to be a part of the JAG family — and then to be honored for that at work as well.”
Coronado has offered the JAG program for 40 years, helping young people succeed in school and in the workplace through individualized post-graduation plans to succeed.
The program helps students through campus visits and scholarships to secure jobs after high school and receive a full year of follow-up services after graduation.
“I really believe in what our program does here and what our JAG program does here,” Palatucci said. “The JAG program has done nothing but make my job easier when it comes to supporting the kids.”
JAG Arizona nominated Palatucci.
“Ms. Palatucci has been instrumental in making sure the Coronado High School program continues to thrive,” said JAG Arizona President Graciela Garcia Candia. “She is a powerful advocate for her JAG Coordinator and students, working to give them every opportunity to succeed.”
Palatucci isn’t the only Coronado High staff member to receive an award from JAG.
During JAG’s national training seminar in Florida this summer, Coronado JAG Coordinator Wendy Paez Gonzales was named one of 50 high performers in the U.S. and one of just three in Arizona.
Recognized for securing nearly $1 million in scholarships for her seniors, Paez Gonzales was also awarded the “5 of 5” Award in 2019 for implementing project-based learning in her classroom.
“It’s a huge honor anytime you get recognized for your hard work,” she said. “JAG is a labor of love. I’ve shed a lot of tears for that program. But we don’t do this for awards. It’s not the reason we do our job. We do this job because we feel that it’s not just a passion, that it’s a mission... to help kids.”
This year marks Paez Gonzales’ 10th year of being the JAG coordinator at Coronado and her 11th year at the southern Scottsdale high school.
Thanks to JAG, Paez Gonzales said she’s received the extra resources and tools to be a better teacher.
“It’s hard enough being a teacher,” she said. “We have sometimes limited resources, limited networking abilities, but this program really gives me all the tools that I have in order to help my students.”
In 1980, Coronado High School was one of Arizona’s first high schools to create a JAG program.
And since Palatucci became principal last summer, she has taken a vested interest in the JAG program.
“She has worked to understand the role JAG can play on her campus and goes above and beyond in understanding how she can best support the successful implementation of the program,” Garcia Candia said.
“The connections that JAG makes with them are life-changing and immeasurable,” Palatucci added.
Coronado students meet with local business leaders to explore career options and tour college campuses as they receive guidance with college and career planning.
“It’s very much a hands-on program, close contact, and can be a very emotional type of program where there’s a lot of physical contact and a lot of collaborative work,” Paez Gonzales said.
This one-on-one nature has made the pandemic particularly difficult for Paez Gonzales and her JAG students.
Because they were unable to go on college field trips and invite guest speakers into the classroom, Paez Gonzales hosted breakout session calls, invited guest speakers via Zoom and worked with Arizona State University on virtual tours for the students.
“We’re finding our ways around it,” Paez Gonzales said. “But yeah, the social distance is very difficult for students because we’re very much a family.”
Palatucci said what makes JAG so successful is the individualized attention and care to each student’s skills.
“I really believe in that kid-by-kid, skill-by-skill mentality, and I think that is the backbone of JAG,” Palatucci said. “The program really looks at their individual needs, their strengths, their challenges, and gives them more of that individualized attention and care to their skills that we wouldn’t be able to offer without the JAG program.”
Paez Gonzales added that the JAG program “starts creating the leaders of tomorrow today,” and that her goal for 2021 is to enroll more students into the program.
“A perfect program is 40-plus,” Paez Gonzales said.
Currently, 30 students belong to the Coronado JAG program.
“We are working to try to find another 10 students that we can help in the second semester, and hopefully we can continue growing our program,” Paez Gonzales said.