January 27, 2017
Connor Morgan

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) — "This is my favorite hour of the day."

These are the words of Destini Estes, a City High junior describing her iJAG - Iowa Jobs for America's Graduates - class, which she said "saved her life."

Estes is one of 50 Little Hawk students in the school enrolled in iJAG, a program designed to help students who face barriers toward success.

Estes said she was struggling in school during her freshman and sophomore years, oftentimes ignoring her grades.

Then a conversation about her GPA with iJag specialist Elizabeth Rook resulted in a swell of emotions.

"I started to cry in [Rook's] arms," described Estes. "I didn't know I was getting so low."

Estes began the iJAG program, and said her grades and focus have improved as a result.

The unique initiative offers project-based learning and hands-on experiences not offered by many streamline courses.

Guest lecturers are a staple of the program, including presenters from the University of Iowa's Moneythink chapter.

A handful of Hawkeye students visit the class at City High on a weekly basis, educating the high schoolers on money management.

The program's co-president, Iowa senior Taylor Palensky, said Moneythink's goal is to "provide financial literacy training" to students to prepare them for entering the "adult world."

Instructor Rook said the regular visits provide a consistency most classrooms lack, with teachers typically teaching units.

"The Moneythink group comes once a week, which reminds students about the importance of financial things like saving your money, spending on wants versus needs," said Rook.

Estes said she can come into iJAG "sad" but wind up "happy" by the end of the class period, attributing the shift to Rook's methods and the real-world applicability of the material.

Some of the iJAG students have jobs, and Estes said learning about taxes or how to use a debit card provides guidance.

The Moneythink mentors said they're happy to help.

"When we see a light bulb go off in a student's head, it's like, 'Wow, I wish I would have had this kind of information when I was in high school," said Palensky. "If we provide education and resources to [high school] students to be able to better manage their money, they can go home and take it to their families, pass it to their future families, and really help manage their finances and be successful in the future."