Original article in Hays Daily News, May 26, 2020

TOPEKA — More than 200 students from Jobs for America’s Graduates – Kansas (JAG-K) programs across the state participated in the organization’s annual State Career Development Conference (CDC), held virtually this year. Winners of the 10 different areas of competition held on May 20 were announced on May 22.

In past years, the State CDC competitions were held at a central location. Due to measures in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the competitions were conducted virtually. Ensuring that the competitions were held despite the pandemic was important to the organization said Chuck Knapp, JAG-K president and CEO.

“It was really important that we support students and provide opportunities for them to showcase their skills,” Knapp said. “The virtual CDC was our solution to engage students and allow them to compete.”

The 200 participants competed in events that showcase competencies attained in the JAG-K program. Competition in the same 10 categories was staged for middle school participants as well.

High school students who placed in the top three of the four national qualifying categories – Employability, Public Speaking, Mathematics, and Project-Based Learning – earned the opportunity to attend the National Student Leadership Academy (NSLA) in Washington, D.C. later this year. NSLA is an all-expense paid experience where students compete against students from JAG programs across the country.

Students who qualified to compete at NSLA are:

Employability: 1st Keegan Grogan, Concordia; 2nd Natalie Radke, Garden City; 3rd Ashton Ensley, Great Bend

Public Speaking: 1st Chrishayla Adams, Topeka High; 2nd Atiya Gonzales, Highland Park, (Topeka); 3rd Lauryn Betts, Beloit

Mathematics: 1st Jonathan Rupe, Hays; 2nd Adam Herschberger, Newton; 3rd Citlaly Olguin, Highland Park (Topeka)

Project-Based Learning: 1st Blair Holliday & Alexas Amos, Holcomb; 2nd Curtis Wathen, Royal Valley; 3rd Zyah Smith & Cristina Velasquez, Washington (Kansas City)

Three students who will represent JAG-K at NSLA as elected state officers are: President, Chrishayla Adams, Topeka High; Vice-president, Blair Holliday, Holcomb; Secretary, Nosteho Ahmed, Harmon (Kansas City).

High school students also competed in events such as Entrepreneurship, Mapping My Future, Poster Design, Senior Portfolio, Students for Service, and T-Shirt Design. The winners of those competitions are as follows:

Entrepreneurship: 1st Ethan McDaniel & Rilee Horaceck, Goodland; 2nd Damaris Mireles, Wyandotte; 3rd Anjeline Lightfoot, Augusta

Mapping My Future: 1st Hannah Mertz, Salina South; 2nd Elly Gossard, Field Kindley (Coffeyville); 3rd Naelly Llamas, Washington (Kansas City)

Poster: 1st Hannah Baker, Russell; 2nd Myra Rangel, Washington (Kansas City); 3rd Dylan Creollo, Royal Valley

Senior Portfolio: 1st Hannah Mertz, Salina South; 2nd Aalana Samuels, Lawrence Free State; 3rd Marshall Perryman, Hays

Students for Service: 1st Aaron Johnson & Elijah Ballard, Schlagle; 2nd Isaiah Galindo, Goodland; 3rd Emili Quezada & Aliyah Marshall, Shawnee Mission North

T-Shirt Design: 1st Cheyenne Gordon, El Dorado; 2nd Jocie Shopteese, Royal Valley; 3rd Haley Reynolds, Hutchinson

Teams were also awarded recognition based on their collective performance. The top three teams came from Salina South High School (1st place), Royal Valley High School (2nd place), and Kansas City Washington High School 9-10 (3rd place).

Earlier this year, each of the eight JAG-K Regions hosted Career Development Conferences to determine those who qualify for state. Qualifying students were those who placed in the top three of each category at their Regional CDC.

“We are so pleased that, despite the big change at schools in the spring, that a large number of our students still competed in the State CDC this year,” said Bev Mortimer, JAG-K senior vice-president of program development. “The Career Specialists moved quickly to make it happen virtually, and the students persevered through the changes to demonstrate their skills. Mary Guerra, JAG-K director of program management, should receive special recognition for coordinating the event.”

JAG-K is a multi-year, in-school program for students in grades seven through 12 that offers tools to successfully transition students into post-secondary school, the military, or directly into the workforce with marketable skills. Participants in the program face multiple barriers to success that their JAG-K Career Specialist helps them overcome through a nationally-accredited, evidence-based model. The most recent data shows JAG-K students have a 98 percent graduation rate.

The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is a state affiliate of the national JAG program network which operates in 35 different states and territories. It is primarily funded through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant to the State of Kansas administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). In addition to school districts and DCF, JAG-K partners with the Kansas Department of Education. Other JAG-K funding sources include AT&T, Capitol Federal, John Deere, Synchrony Financial and Taco Bell.

To learn more about JAG-K, visit www.jagkansas.org, ‘Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas’ on Facebook, and on Twitter at @JAG_Kansas.