CACTC students among top 10 finishers in nationwide competition

By JEN COWART, Special to the Herald
Posted 7/14/21

Special to the Herald SkillsUSA Rhode Island recently announced the local winners of this year's national competition, which was held virtually in June. In total, 72 Rhode Island career and technical students were participants of the

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CACTC students among top 10 finishers in nationwide competition


SkillsUSA Rhode Island recently announced the local winners of this year’s national competition, which was held virtually in June. In total, 72 Rhode Island career and technical students were participants of the rigorous competition, with 43 of those students ranking in the top 10 nationwide.

Cranston Public Schools is pleased to announce that seven Cranston Area Career and Technical Center students competed and placed in the top 10. Two were awarded top medals. These students are now nationally recognized as top students in the country.

Rachael Zarella, a senior Educational Pathways student, received a gold medal for her entry in the Early Childhood Education category. Ricardo Vicente, a Culinary Pathways student, received a silver medal for his entry in the Restaurant Service category.

Additionally, the following students placed in the top 10: Sofia Riccio, fourth place, Action Skills; Abigail Shellard, seventh place, Advertising Design; Peter Morales and Egan Perry, ninth place, Interactive Application and Game Design; and Rafeh Aziz, ninth place, T-Shirt design.

Several of the student winners noted their competition preparation prior to the actual competition dates, with years of hands-on learning in the classroom and weeks of testing and research ahead of time.

“I participated in numerous tasks before I even presented to the judges,” Zarella said. “First, I had to take two tests, a week before the competition. One would count towards my score and the other was for a tiebreaker. To prepare for the competition, it took a lot of hard work and practice. I researched developmentally appropriate practice for preschoolers, watched YouTube videos, and studied Rhode Island’s Early Learning and Development Standards (RIELDS). All of this information helped me understand the best way that young students learn. They do not learn by getting worksheets or sitting on the rug and just listening to the teacher; they learn their best through play. So in my lesson I allowed ‘my students’ to do just that.”

One of her teachers in the Educational Pathways program at CACTC, Bethany Correia, spoke to the depth of Zarella’s preparation for both the state and national competitions, as those students who win a gold medal at the state level are qualified to attend nationals in the summer.

“As Rachael prepared for both the state and national level competition she worked tirelessly to perfect her teaching techniques. Throughout her years in the program she has always had a strong skill set for teaching and a desire to learn more about her chosen career path. She has been the type of student that requests constructive feedback and then truly reflects on it and demonstrates the growth from the reflective process in her next lesson.”

Vicente, who will be a senior in the Culinary Arts program fall, spoke of the steps involved in his competition, including setting a table, memorizing a menu and providing table-side service to a “guest” – in this case, Glorimar Rivera, his teacher.

“Due to the circumstances of this year, it was a very different competition, as trying to practice and having to stay at our schools and compete via Zoom rather than in-person in Kansas was difficult at times,” he said. “However, I overall had a lot of fun with my competition and I am really grateful for the opportunity I was given to compete this year.”

Abigail Shellard relied heavily on her knowledge base as well as her classroom experience, and as a top-nine finalist at nationals, it was clear she was in fact well prepared.

“I was very familiar with all of the Adobe software that I would be using in the competition and trusted that my three years of experience with these applications would help me to be successful,” she said.

Working primarily from home ahead of the competition provided its challenges for the students. Not only do they look forward to the excitement of traveling to a new place and being together, doing the work at home that is normally done in a classroom setting added an additional layer to the competition, according to Riccio, who had placed sixth at nationals in person as a freshman and felt the differences acutely this year. She hopes to be able to compete in person again as a senior next year.

“This year it was definitely a lot harder because I was mainly doing school from home which meant that I didn’t have class time to work on it. So I had to try and make time after school which did mean missing a few track practices,” she said. “It was not nearly as fun or exciting of an experience given the fact that we had to do it from our home town in the same environment as we do every other day. We didn’t get to travel somewhere new and meet new people. But with that being said it was still an interesting experience and definitely different. I hope to be able to compete next year for one last time.”

Each CTE program is very much unlike the others, and several of the winners shared what they had to do in order to compete in their category.

“I was given my domain, which is the topic that I would teach to the students like math or science, and then I had four hours to work on my lesson plan. During these four hours I wrote my lesson that was developmentally appropriate for students in preschool and that focused on my domain. I also had to choose a book that related to both my lesson and domain. Lastly, I had to design and create my props. For this competition we do not have real students in front of us so we do not use real materials. We are assigned a certain amount of materials, such as paper, scissors, paperclips, etc, and we have to get creative and design our props. During my lesson I needed a sandbox, in order to make this I folded the paper and stapled the sides to make it a boxed shape. These props do not have to be perfect, all they need to show is the creativity you put into them. After completing this I waited for June 17 to present to the judges,” Zarella said. “I set up my laptop on Zoom and went straight into pretending that I was in a real classroom with real students. After finishing my presentation it was time for the interview questions. I was asked, what my teaching philosophy is, what helps me standout compared to other teachers, and three other questions. The judges then said to me that I did an excellent job and they wished me luck.”

Riccio went into her Aquaculture classroom at CACTC for her presentation, as she was working on camera with live goldfish about the size of her palm to complete a fish census, and required the live fish housed in the CACTC classroom for her competition.

“I had to create a presentation for this which had to fit into a 5-7 minute time slot with an additional three minutes at the beginning and end for set up and break down. For the fish census I had to use clove oil to put a fish to sleep in order to weigh and measure it and then wake it up again. After my presentation was over I just had to leave the meeting. This was because all of the presentations were recorded and sent to the judges afterwards which meant that there was no feedback,” she said.

Shellard’s competition, like Zarella’s, consisted of multiple parts on different days.

“First, I had to take a multiple choice assessment about the principles and values of SkillsUSA. Next, I had to log in to a virtual orientation meeting the day before the competition to go over the competition process. Competition day started at noon and consisted of two parts. The first part of the competition was a 90-minute Reverse Design Engineering (RDE) challenge, where we were given a pre-designed advertisement for Ford trucks and we had to recreate the same advertisement ourselves. This consisted of properly measuring every element of the ad, sizing elements properly, making sure the textual elements were the same, even making sure that images were correctly cropped, scaled, and skewed. The second part of the competition was creativity-heavy. Contestants were given a made-up company, and we were given four hours to design a brand logo, three Instagram advertisements for a campaign, a sticker, and a tote bag design,” she said. “This year’s company was named ‘Greeny Feelies,’ and was a company that focused on preserving the environment. Not only were we judged based on the content that we created, but we were also scored based on our design process as well. I had to make sure that for each element that I designed, I had the proper number of colored thumbnail sketches that showed the different ideas that I had throughout the process. Finally, all contestants had a debrief the next day and viewed a creative presentation from the competition director.”

Morales and Egan normally rely heavily on the ability to communicate with each other throughout their design process and preparation for their Interactive App and Game Design entry, and although they found that challenging because of the COVID-19 limitations, they utilized Snapchat in order to communicate with each other.

Their entry entailed creating a 2D stealth game labeled S.T.E.A.L.T.H. The object of the game is for the player to take on the role of a robot escaping a facility avoiding security, and navigating to the exit without being caught.

“Along with the game we also had to make a Game Design Document (GOD) which includes all the little details about our game, like the artwork, ideas, inspirations, and technicalities,” Morales said.

The team also had to create a trailer which introduced the game, and had to take two tests – one on programming and game development knowledge, and one on the history of SkillsUSA.

“Lastly was the interview, which was quite nerve-wracking, as there was no way to actually prepare for it, but it went quite well,” Morales said. “We were asked basic questions about our game and presented it to our judges. There was only one interview for the state level and one interview for the national level.”

Despite the various bumps along the way, Morales and Egan were thrilled to rank in the top nine nationwide.

“For this competition, it being our very first and playing everything by ear, it was quite a miracle run, to be honest, making it up to nationals and placing in the top nine,” Morales said. “There’s definitely a sense of pride in being able to represent Rhode Island nationally.”

As Zarella reflected on her success at Nationals, she credited the teachers she’s had in the Educational Pathways program at CACTC through the years for preparing her along the way for the competition and beyond.

“My teachers, Bethany Correia, Cathy Long and Charlene Barberi, have taught and prepared me not just for this competition, but also for my future as an educator,” she said. “I am so grateful to have had all three of them be such great role models for me.”

Correia could not be more pleased with Zarrella’s gold medal success at the national competition this year.

“I am so proud of Rachael and the level of dedication she has shown,” said Correia. “I am proud of her national gold medal and hope this will open doors and opportunities for her. Winning first place at the national level is an amazing accomplishment, one that she earned every step of the way!”

Jen Cowart is a communications specialist with Cranston Public Schools.


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