A group of Cranston West students returned to the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC) this fall as champions, and they are preparing to do it again.
Late last June, Emilio Verdone, Hannah Schriam, Alyssa Males, Kelly McDonough, Alexandra Tidswell, Victoria Johnston and Ellis Tammelleo traveled to Kansas City, Mo., to compete in the SkillsUSA national competitions in their areas of expertise. Verdone, Schriam and Tammelleo are enrolled in the robotics program at CACTC and Males, McDonough, Tidswell and Johnston are enrolled in the medical program. The students take their academic classes at West and their career education classes and internships at CACTC.
In addition, Schriam is the SkillsUSA State President, representing Rhode Island nationally.
Although the trip took place over the summer, the students agree that the effects are lingering.
"It was a life-changing experience, to say the least," said Males. "We met new people, saw new things."
Tidswell agreed, noting that they participated in the event with other groups of students from Rhode Island's various career education programs.
"We bonded both as a school and as a state," she said.
Lori Velino, guidance counselor at CACTC, has traveled with groups to the SkillsUSA competitions in the past and could not say enough about this particular group of students.
"This is the biggest group I have ever taken to Nationals. We had the most students competing at the national level and the highest state total of medal winners," she said.
Besides the competitions that took place during the trip, the students had a chance to explore the area, and take part in fun events. They traded state pins with students across the country.
"We brought Rhode Island pins and you trade with everyone from all the other states. Some places were much rarer than others," said Tammelleo.
One event in particular, the Health Knowledge Bowl, similar to Jeopardy, stands out in Males’ memories of the experience.
"First, we compete school-wide and then statewide, and then nationally," she explained. "I was originally not even supposed to compete statewide because although I was the alternate in the medical terminology category, I was not supposed to compete. The day before the state competition I was asked to compete. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. I love medical terminology.”
Males went home and studied a stack of terminology cards that Velino gave her to study, and placed first in the state, and at Nationals, seventh in the country.
Velino noted that both Tammelleo and Verdone were the only sophomores in their robotics competition, the youngest students there.
"Most are seniors when they compete nationally," she said.
She also said that many states have the funding to send the instructors from each program to coach and support the students during the trip. CACTC students do not have the benefit of having their own program instructors with them.
As state president, and officer for her team, Schriam spent much of her time on the trip in delegate sessions with the other officers from around the country.
"That was one of my favorite parts," she said. "My other favorite part was having the chance to meet up with and talk to other people from other states. We are still in touch with and connected to the people we met there."
To put the size of the event in perspective, Velino explained that approximately 80 students from Rhode Island attended the national competition, while one school in Texas had 80 students, just from that school alone.
The venue was described by Tammelleo as "an amusement park," due to its size and the nature of the event.
"The room was just gigantic with competition after competition for as long as you could see, as long as several football fields," he said.
Velino said students need to experience it to believe it.
"Words can't even describe or do justice to what the experience is like," she said.
As the school year progresses, the students are getting ready now for the summer competition. Velino noted that it is rare to have so many underclassmen compete, and she is excited to have so many returning students interested in competing again at nationals for 2013.
"They are a good, solid team," she said.
Though there is a cost associated with the trip, the students and staff are already preparing to offset that cost as much as possible.
"We fundraise throughout the year. We sell T-shirts, candy and things like that to reduce the cost of the trip," she said.
Tammelleo echoed the feelings of the group as he expressed his excitement in competing again.
"All in all, it was a lot of fun. I can't wait to go back."