News Release: Junction City Students Claim Awards at JAG National Career Development Conference

A three-person team from Junction City High School took first place in a national Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) competition in St. Louis last week. Another team from Junction City finished third in an event at the national competition, while two local students placed in individual events.

JAG National hosted the National Career Development Conference (NCDC) in St. Louis April 18-20, with a contingent from each state affiliate attending for training and competition.

This year, 35 Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) students traveled to St. Louis to participate in national competitions that culminate Regional and State Career Development Conferences held in the spring in each of the 38 states with JAG programs. The seven competition categories are Financial Literacy, Creative Decision Making, Prepared Speaking, Career Preparation, Project-Based Learning, Business Plan, and Employability Skills. The results of the events were announced Saturday, April 20.

The Creative Decision Making team from Junction City High School of James Lamar, Jae’Lynn Dennard and Jaden Exantus placed first in their respective category. The Junction City students gave Kansas its first win at nationals since the state registered three first place finishes in 2020.

“I am eternally grateful to JAG-K who gave me the opportunity to compete, and I’m grateful to my teammates for supporting me each step of the way,” Exantus said of the accomplishment.

A team from Junction City High School consisting of Noah Maldonado, Jonae Conover and Alani Burks placed third in the Project-Based Learning event.

In individual events, Jackson Waters from Junction City High School placed fourth in the Career Preparation category.

“I tell our kids that hard work wins. They took that quote and ran with it,” said Junction City High School Career Specialist James Denton. “I am so proud of how they worked, and they earned those placings through their hard work. They said they were going to do it, they put action to it, and they did it.”

Bethany Wells from Junction City Innovations Academy finished seventh in Career Preparation.

Junction City Innovations Academy was recognized as one of the nation’s Outstanding Career Association Chapters, which honored chapter excellence in Leadership Development, Career Development, Civic Awareness, Community Service, and Social Awareness. Leading the school to the recognition was Wells, the student-elected president of the chapter, and Career Specialist Willie Woods.

“I am beyond proud of the successes the students have achieved this year,” said Woods. “Bethany did an exceptional job at NCDC in her career preparation event.

“Overall, as a program being recognized as an Outstanding Chapter was very humbling and it’s a true honor for all the students in the program to have their work showcased and appreciated on a national level. It is the first time Junction City Alternative Education has received that award.”

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. Kansas’ 112 JAG-K programs serve approximately 6,000 students in 47 school districts across the state.

The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is a state affiliate of the national JAG program network which operates in 38 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, EagleU, Evergy, Goldstein Charitable Trust, the JB and Anne Hodgdon Foundation, John Deere, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City Royals Foundation, Kansas Gas Service, the Kansas Insurance Department, the Kansas State Bank Commissioner, Kohl’s, Synchrony Financial, the Taco Bell Foundation, the City of Topeka, United Way of Kaw Valley, United Way of the Plains and Walmart.

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