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Salina South students claim third place in national project-based learning competition

The Salina Journal
Evonni Martinez

Salina South High School students Mariala Martinez and Evonni Martinez claimed third place in a national Project-Based Learning competition sponsored by Jobs For America’s Graduates this week.

Participants in the Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) program at Salina South High School, the students competed virtually in the contest and was announced the winner Thursday morning.

"I am extremely proud of Evonni and Mariela,” said Melissa Gates, JAG-K career specialist at Salina South High School. “They remained resilient through the pandemic and having to work together virtually.”

JAG National hosted the National Student Leadership Academy (NSLA) in virtual format Dec. 1-3 due to the ongoing pandemic. The event is traditionally held in Washington D.C., and a contingent from each state affiliate attends for training and competition.

This year, 10 JAG-K students reached the finals of virtual competitions that culminate the Regional and State Career Development Conferences held in the spring. The four competition categories are Public Speaking (presenting a prepared speech), Employability Skills (participating in a mock interview that includes a resume, cover letter and job application), Financial Literacy, and Project-Based Learning (the student gives a presentation about a project they created and implemented in the current year).

Six JAG-K students placed in the virtual competitions, which were announced on Dec. 3:

• Employability Skills 1st Place: Ariana Jimenez, Holcomb

• Financial Literacy 1st Place: Erica Zhou Wang, Emporia

• Public Speaking 1st Place: Chrishayla Adams, Topeka High

• Financial Literacy 3rd Place: Jonathan Rupe, Hays

• Project-Based Learning Showcase 3rd place: Mariala Martinez & Evonni Martinez, Salina South

NSLA featured leadership activities, daily plenary sessions, exhibits, educational workshops, and networking opportunities.

Although students were not permitted to travel to Washington D.C. this year, JAG sought to make the virtual NSLA event a meaningful experience.

“In this time of COVID, JAG is making sure students get the very best experience they possibly can,” said Mortimer. “Our programs really seized upon the opportunity to compete virtually, and thus we had a really strong showing in the national competitions.”

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 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 AT&T, Capitol Federal, John Deere, Synchrony Financial, Taco Bell and Walmart.

Mariala Martinez