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Larned High School senior navigates grief through JAG-K, represents Kansas at national conference

Larned High School senior navigates grief through JAG-K, represents Kansas at national conference

James Kingsbury was just 12 years old when his father died in 2018.

“I was grieving with that and not seeing a future for myself,” said Kingsbury, now a senior at Larned High School, Fort Larned USD 495. “I thought, ‘Why do it if he’s not there?’ “

When Kingsbury got to high school, new opportunities were available to him. In 2021, Kingsbury joined Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K) during his sophomore year, and his mindset changed.

“You lost a parent, you wish they were still there,” he said. “It’s more of how to make it a motivation instead of a barrier.”

Israel Hagerman is a JAG instructor at Larned High School. He said Kingsbury is passionate and is one of the reasons why he sees JAG as so important.

“This program has definitely changed his life,” Hagerman said about Kingsbury. “He’s a leader in our school, in JAG, at the state level. To see where he was as a sophomore to where he is now as a senior is amazing.”

JAG is a state-based national nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting young people of great promise, helping youth who face significant challenges reach economic and academic success. Students not only try to figure out what they want to do after high school, but they learn how to write resumes, participate in mock interviews, tour local colleges, attend job fairs and learn other life skills.

JAG-K is an elective class at LHS. This is the fourth year of the program, and Hagerman was the one who started it. But that came at a difficult time.

“It was very challenging because we started it during COVID, where our school was in lockdown, and we’re a brand-new program,” he said. “My manager couldn’t come in and help. I didn’t have teachers in the building to talk to. It was definitely challenging getting it started.”

However, he had teachers from Pratt and Kiowa County whom he could call for help.

“JAG-K is a tremendous program,” said Dustin Wilson, principal at Larned High School. “Mr. Hagerman has done a wonderful job of making JAG-K a success in our building. The program is so important in providing students a connection point to our school and allowing them to develop skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. JAG-K is an exceptional program that positively impacts students, schools and communities.”

The class is every day, but Kingsbury also is president of the local leadership team and meets up with state and regional leadership groups once a month via Zoom. He also is vice president at the state level.

Kingsbury is currently a manager on the cross-country team, a member of the Student Council (STUCO) and National Honors Society (NHS) and is playing tennis in the spring.

“Every year, I’ve tried to do something a little different,” he said.

And this year, he’s doing just that. Last week, Kingsbury, along with six other regional JAG-K presidents and vice presidents, flew to Washington, D.C., for the National Student Leadership Academy. This was Kingsbury’s first flight that he could remember.

The conference was held Thursday, Nov. 30, to Saturday, Dec. 2. However, the Kansas branch arrived Tuesday, Nov. 28, and used that Wednesday as a day to sightsee.

During the conference, students learned about different leadership qualities, networking, real-world skills and more.

“It was also a great experience for us to meet up with our state representatives to inform on a personal level what JAG has done for us, as far as the struggles and barriers we’ve faced to where we are now,” Kingsbury said.

Kingsbury said he’ll share the leadership skills he learned with his classmates.

“He has just jumped in with both feet and is getting everything possible out of every experience he can,” Hagerman said.

Wilson had similar praise for Kingsbury.

“He has shown tremendous leadership and a willingness to make the program a success,” Wilson said. “He is a model student in the classroom and in our halls. His success as leader in the JAG-K program comes as no surprise to those who know him.”

After graduating from Larned High School this coming May, Kingsbury plans to go to Barton County Community College in Great Bend to get his associate degree in science. After that, he plans to transfer to Kansas State University in Manhattan to get his master’s in athletic training.

He said he was able to visit K-State because of JAG-K.

“It’s given me the opportunity to get to the level I want to get to,” he said. “It set my future in motion in a way.”

His time with JAG-K won’t stop when he graduates though. The program not only helps students through high school but also after graduation. A year after a JAG-K student graduates, a JAG-K teacher will follow up with the student monthly and check in to see if he or she needs help with anything.

“JAG is very data driven. They know what works and doesn’t work,” Hagerman said. “They found 12 months after a kid graduates high school is crucial for them to go to work or continue schooling. If you get them through that first year, their chances of being successful are a lot higher.”

The class is more than just an elective, Kingsbury said.

“If you really apply yourself and work hard at it, it can become not just a better class, but a better opportunity. I’m not even at the top of my accomplishments yet,” he said. “Next year, I can run to be a member of the national group, showing that there’s really not an end to what you can accomplish.”

Posted: Dec 7, 2023,
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