Verrado High School’s SkillsUSA club is sending 18 students to the National Leadership and Skills Conference this June. The students will represent Arizona, competing in their respective categories.
The SkillsUSA competition revolves around career and technical education (CTE) programs offered around the nation. CTE courses provide high-school students of all ages with the academic and technical skills needed to be successful in real-world experiences. Around 12.5 million high-school and college students around the country are enrolled in CTE courses.
Mike Walker, the CTE/TV broadcasting instructor and SkillsUSA Broadcasting Club adviser for Verrado, said CTE programs prepare students for their future in a unique classroom setting.
“(CTE) classes are geared toward specific programs of study — for lack of better terms, a career,” Walker said. “Essentially the kids are picking a major in high school, and some of our programs you can do up to two years and some up to four years.”
He continued, “CTE and how it sets itself apart from core classes is that classes are centered around hands-on, project-based learning. There’s not much lecturing. We don’t have any kind of textbook that you would normally see in a classroom. There typically isn’t any homework because it’s a project — it’s very collaborative.”
Getting 18 students to the national competition was no easy feat. In fact, before the students could compete at the state level, there was a regional competition where Verrado students competed just to qualify for the 2019 Annual SkillsUSA Arizona State competition.
“The schools on the west side get together and compete at regionals mirroring the events at state, and we had around 38 medals at regionals, and that was really good,” Walker said.
Verrado students who qualified for the state competition performed in April and, according to Walker, the students blew the competition out of the water.
“I know we had to have been right up there with the top medal winners in the state,” Walker said. “To put it into perspective, all five of the (Agua Fria Union High School District) schools competed at state, and only one other school got any medals — they got two medals — and we got 44.”
At the 2019 annual SkillsUSA Arizona State competition, Verrado had 18 gold medalists. Those students will represent Verrado at the national competition. Out of the 18 students going to nationals, only three are returners — Robert Loera, Christian Zendejas and Trinity Dube.
Loera and Zendejas competed in a team and placed second at nationals last year in the business management and technology category. Going into nationals this year, Zendejas believes they’re ready to go for the win.
“The goal obviously is to get gold this year,” Zendejas said. “We’ve enhanced our designs, our display, we have really upped our game adding different advertisement pieces — we’re definitely ready.”
After a 12th place finish last year, Dube will also return to the nationals to compete in the broadcast news category. She hopes to place in the top five at nationals this year.
Dube said the competition at nationals was a “nerve-wracking” experience and doesn’t compare to the Arizona level.
“The competition for Broadcast News is really hard, and you feel so special when you win state, but when you sit in this giant arena during the opening ceremony and everyone there has a gold medal, it’s almost like starting back at square one,” Dube said. “Everyone is the best where they come from, so it levels out the competition.”
Categories in which Verrado students will compete are Career Pathways Showcase, Entrepreneurship, TV/Video Production, Broadcast News Productions, and Robotics and Automation Technology.
Verrado’s SkillsUSA was labeled a Gold Level Chapter of Distinction for the third year in a row, and was one of seven chapters in the state that was given this status. Izabela Duarte, a gold medalist in the state competition, said there was a sense of pride when they walked into SkillsUSA functions.
“Basically, when we get to SkillsUSA events, we get little name tags that say we are a gold chapter, and it makes us feel great,” Duarte said. “Seeing that, kids know that, ‘Oh, they work hard. We need to watch out — we need to learn from them,’ and it furthers us.”
The 18 students will compete in Louisville, Kentucky, from June 24 to June 28, where they will join more than 7,500 students nationwide to compete for a national title.