News Release: Kansas Students Place in Numerous Events at JAG National CDC

A three-person team from Junction City High School took first place in a national Jobs for America’s Graduates competition in St. Louis last week. Additionally, several representatives of the Kansas affiliate of JAG placed in the top 10 in the competitions.

JAG National hosted the National Career Development Conference (NCDC) in St. Louis Thursday through Saturday, with a contingent from each state affiliate attending for training and competition.

This year, 35 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, consisting of James Lamar, Jae’Lynn Dennard and Jaden Exantus (pictured left to right), placed first in their respective category. The Junction City students gave Kansas its first win at nationals since the state claimed 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.

Leonardo Hernandez of Hays High School was runner up in the Employability Skills competition.

Analicia Aquino from Shawnee Mission North placed third in Prepared Speaking.

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

JAG-K students and teams who placed in the top 10 in their events were:

  • Holcomb High School (Ashlynn Bradley, Greg Martinez, Mattea Kennis), 4th Place, Project-Based Learning
  • Jackson Waters, Junction City High School, 4th Place, Career Preparation
  • Hannah Gideon, Russell High School, 6th Place, Career Preparation
  • Brooklyn Gilchrist, Kiowa County High School, 6th Place, Financial Literacy
  • Ilyssa Maya, Concordia High School, 6th Place, Prepared Speaking
  • Kyla Sterbenz, Shawnee Heights High School, 6th Place, Employability Skills
  • Bethany Wells, Junction City Innovations Academy, 7th Place, Career Preparation

Five Kansas programs were recognized as Outstanding Career Association Chapters, which honored chapter excellence in Leadership Development, Career Development, Civic Awareness, Community Service, and Social Awareness:

  • Augusta High School: Blake Firebaugh, President; Mindy McCormick, Career Specialist
  • Junction City Innovations Academy: Bethany Wells, President; Willie Woods Career Specialist
  • Kiowa County High School: Reagan Greenleaf, President; Marcus Mitchell, Career Specialist
  • Minneapolis High School: Clare McKain, President; Jay Macy, Career Specialist
  • Russell High School: Carolyne Martin, President; Raina Tomlinson, Career Specialist

In addition to the victories in competition, Mycah Benton, a senior at Basehor-Linwood High School, was recognized at NCDC as one of 35 winners of the Ken Smith Scholarship Award in the amount of $2,000. The scholarship program honors the extraordinary leadership and 43 years of service of the first President and CEO of Jobs for America’s Graduates, Inc., Kenneth M. Smith.

“JAG-K was well represented by some outstanding students at the second annual National Career Development Conference,” said JAG-K President and CEO Chuck Knapp. “These young people continue to impress and inspire, and they are a consistent reminder that our evidence-based model works. There is not another program that is as comprehensive in the competencies taught, personal skills learned, and life changing results achieved.” 

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.