Students take away life experiences, top prizes at nationals

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As last school year concluded in June, many students from the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC), housed on the Cranston High School West campus, were packing their bags, ready to head to Louisville, Ky. for the SkillsUSA national competition.

“We took 24 kids to the competition from our programs, and of the 24, every kid placed in the top 25,” said SkillsUSA advisor, Chef Steve Versacci, who is one of the chefs in the Culinary Arts Pathways program at CACTC.

In addition to succeeding in their areas of study, the students received many life experiences that go along with traveling to this event.

”There were so many people from all of the states and territories, it was so awesome,” said Ian Sanchez, a senior in the honors level Aquaculture Pathways program. “I even met people from Puerto Rico. We watched several competitions and we were trading pins with other students from other states.”

Sanchez presented a short presentation, a nitrate nitration test, and hit the six-minute, thirty-second ideal time, placing fifth in his competition.

According to Hannah Torres, a senior student in the Educational Pathways program, just being among the best of the best from across the nation and sharing a similar passion for the same programs was exciting.

”It was cool to see so many kids who take this so seriously, who are into the same things you are,” she said. “There were also other programs you’d never even heard of, and it was interesting to hear about these other fields and programs and see how advanced all of the students were in their programs.”

Although every student present was there to compete, Nerses Donoyan, a junior in the Pre-engineering/Robotics Pathways program, did not feel any negative vibes from the other students.

“Everyone was there to compete, but everyone was friendly,” he said. “There were people at our level, and above us at the college level.”

Torres agreed, saying that because of today’s technology, the students have been able to stay in touch since the event.

Her own competition involved an element of surprise and required her to think on her feet when presenting.

“We entered the competition and that’s when our topic was given to us,” she said. “Mine was mathematics and I had to write and plan a lesson, including making the materials, but the materials bin didn’t end up being supplied to us so I was making things with crayons and paper the best I could. We then had to present it as if we were teaching it to real children. There was an interview portion with five questions and a read-aloud portion.”

Torres placed fourth in her competition.

For Donoyan and his partner in his Robotics and Automation Technology competition, Ben Kopsick, they needed to work with a robotic arm to sort blocks. Although they have worked with a robotic arm here in Cranston, it was a different type and required them to think on their feet as well. They placed second in their competition.

In the off hours, when not competing or watching others compete, the students were able to visit local attractions and to try out some local eateries.

“We had a state dinner at Churchill Downs and we went to Kentucky Kingdom, which was rented out for one night just for the SkillsUSA kids,” said Torres.

Another night was a dinner out for just the CACTC students and their advisors, according to Sanchez, and a day was spent at the Louisville Slugger museum as well, according to Donoyan.

Coming from the smallest state in the country, many of the students were surprised at the way that other states had to do their initial qualifying competitions.

“A state like Texas, for example, they had to do their in-house competitions, and then a regional competition and then a larger competition to qualify,” said Versacci. “Whereas our students qualify in-house and at the state level and that’s it. Many of these students had more formal experience competing than ours did by the time they got there.”

Donoyan said that although at first that seemed intimidating, it didn’t stop the CACTC students from giving it their all.

“We talked to others who seemed more prepared than us, but it didn’t stop us,” he said. “We were prepared and we knew what we had to do, and we came out on top.”

He noted that his competition with Kopsick was particularly grueling, and spanned an entire day.

“We were there from 8 in the morning until 5 at night, and it was all programming and wiring, and presentations, all day long,” he said. “We were given a break for lunch, and that was it. The rest of the day we’re competing.”

All would agree that one of the most exciting moments of their time spent in Louisville was the awards night, where they found out their rankings and participated in a rally with all of the other states.

“There was a rally with all of the states holding up their banners,” said Sanchez. “There were thousands of kids. Every state had hats and pins for their state. It was very exciting.”

He also saw a side of Louisville that was surprising to him.

“I was surprised to see a lot of poverty there,” he said.

The students agreed that they would compete again in the future, if given the opportunity.

“It was a really great experience, said Torres. “I didn’t think I’d like it, but I really did and I am so glad I did it.”

The following is a listing of all of the students who participated, their competitions and their rankings:

Luis Fidas, Restaurant Service, 24thKristina Faiola, Photography, 23rdThomas Autiello, Internetworking 16thLexi Coutu, Katie Blake, Vy Ho, Maggie DiRaimo, Health Knowledge Bowl, 14thChristina Rivera, Nurse Assisting, 12thAlessandra Negalha, Medical Terminology, 11thAjay Chandrasekaran, Medical Math, 11thBen Jackvony Dan Marella, Urban Search and Rescue, 10thCassidy Foley, Job Demo A, 6thIan Sanchez, Action Skills, 5thStephen Lemme, Information Technology Service, 5thHannah Torres, Early Childhood Education, 4thNerses Donoyan and Ben Kopsick, Robotics Automation Technology, 2nd, Silver Medal

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