News Release: Junction City Student Applies Skills Learned in JAG-K as an Employee of Taco Bell

Though still a high school student, Tairon Banks is excelling at work and making a difference at home.

The high school senior is using the skills he learned in the Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) program at the HD Karns Innovations Academy in Junction City to succeed at a part-time job at Taco Bell in his hometown.

Banks began working at Taco Bell last fall. He works primarily Thursday and Sunday evenings, getting in about 60 hours a month in addition to his school responsibilities. He said he had a specific motivation for getting a part-time job.

“I live with my mother and a little brother,” Banks said. “I don’t want to have stress on my mom to keep up with bills and stuff. So I wanted to get a job to help her out.

“It feels really good because after I help my mom with whatever she needs, I usually have some money to go do whatever I want with it. Being 18 and getting ready to go out into the real world, it gives me the opportunity to see what it’s like to be an adult.”

JAG-K is an evidence-based program that helps students prepare for post-secondary education and employment opportunities. It helps students learn the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace, introduces them to various career paths, and even helps them secure apprenticeships, internships and part-time jobs.

“I’m very proud of Tairon’s commitment to work,” said Tyra Marteen, JAG-K Career Specialist at HD Karns Innovations Academy. “Tairon has benefited from the JAG-K program in numerous ways. On a daily basis, he gets to demonstrate the competencies that we’ve developed in class while on the job.”

JAG-K programs in schools across the state serve approximately 4,300 students. The program reported a graduation rate of 97 percent for the Class of 2020.

The Taco Bell Foundation is a statewide sponsor of the program, donating $21,780 since 2017. Always in need of qualified employees, Taco Bell is a beneficiary of JAG-K’s development of the state’s workforce.

“The Taco Bell Foundation is proud to support organizations that provide direct services for youth academic success, mentorship, college and career exploration and readiness,” said Jennifer Bradbury, Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. “We aim to provide young people the skills needed for a successful transition from high school to college and beyond.”

“The qualities we’re always looking for are respect, outgoing personality, and responsibility,” said Corey Nitkiewicz, General Manager of the Taco Bell in Junction City where Banks is employed. “We get a feel for how they’re handling their academic responsibilities. We figure if you’re handling your academics business, more than likely you will handle the responsibilities that come with the job.”

Banks said he has had no trouble finding the appropriate school/work balance. He credits JAG-K with teaching the soft skills necessary to succeed in both areas.

“In JAG-K, we’re always taught to have a good work ethic, and that has paid off at Taco Bell,” Banks said. “If you don’t have a good work ethic, you won’t survive in the real world. JAG-K taught me how to manage time and how to show others respect in the work environment.”

Banks said having a job while in high school has taught him many marketable skills that will pay off at future jobs.

“I’ve learned leadership skills and how to put things in your own hands and deal with the consequences, good or bad,” Banks said. “I’ve learned how to work at a fast pace and keep up with tasks.”

Taco Bell franchises across Kansas depend upon high school students for at least a portion of their staff. Nitkiewicz said that all businesses across the state have faced staffing issues recently. He provided some advice for students who might seek employment in food service.

“Take into consideration other people,” Nitkiewicz said. “Help your co-workers as best you can. See the job as a team effort. And communicate well with your employer. It’s easier to work with someone than to work against them.”

JAG-K is a multi-year, in-school program for students in grades 6-12 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 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is a state affiliate of the national JAG program network which operates in 40 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 ADM, AT&T, Evergy, Goldstein Charitable Trust, John Deere, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Kansas Insurance Department, the Kansas State Bank Commissioner, Stormont Vail Health, Synchrony Financial, the Taco Bell Foundation and Walmart.

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