Skilled students head to Kansas City for national championship

SKILLS warren high

DOWNEY – Triumphantly taking home gold medals in the SkillsUSA State Championships in April, seven Downey Unified School District (DUSD) students have set their sights, once again, on gold.

On June 25, three WarrenHigh School and four DowneyHigh School students will travel to Kansas City to compete with more than 6,000 contestants in this year’s SkillsUSA National Championships.

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. Launched in 1967, this National Championship has grown from 54 competitors in three contests to more than 6,000 competitors in 99 hands-on occupational and leadership skill areas.

WarrenHigh School seniors Dan Tejada and Samuel Kim have been competing together since their freshman year, the first pair of students to compete for four consecutive years in the Mobile Robotics Technology contest. Attending DUSD schools from an early age, they believe that they have continuously been provided with the appropriate tools to grow and learn, giving them direction and an outlet to excel.

Tejada and Kim met during an engineering class, which is where they both feel their future truly changed.

“It has changed what I want to do with my life,” said Tejada.  “I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go after high school, but this class has helped the decision be much easier.”

Now making plans for their transition into college, Kim has been accepted into the Air Force Academy and will begin his journey only a few weeks before Nationals; making traveling to Kansas City an impossible feat.  SkillsUSA state silver medalist, WHS senior Christian Saldivar, will travel in his place as an alternate in efforts to bring the Mobile Robotics Technology Championship to WHS.

Also representing WHS at the SkillsUSA National Championship is Thomas Ascanio, a Culinary Arts Program student who defeated 24 other contestants at the state championship in a 2 1/2-hour battle to compose a three-course meal.

Enrolling in the Culinary Arts program his junior year, Ascanio has found his passion and career goal through these classes and Career Technical Education (CTE), previously known as Regional Occupational Program (ROP). Ascanio has currently received a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America.

“The only part I would change is beginning the class sooner,” Ascanio stated.

Competing in the Occupationally-Related Contests area of the SkillsUSA Championship is the DHS team comprised of Stephanie Perea, Heidi Alcedo and Cristian Becerra. A brand new category named the Career Pathway Showcase (CPS) Health Science, student teams use their course of study as the basis of a project which must highlight an aspect of their career cluster training.

These seniors focused on CPR awareness and education, centering their efforts on comprising a video showing their skills and knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. CTE teacher, Chris Zessau, was the driving force behind these student’s successes, providing each with the instruction and preparation for this competition.

The final gold medal winner traveling to Kansas City is DHS senior Giannina Marciano, who will compete in Extemporaneous Speaking found in the Leadership Development portion of the SkillsUSA National Championship.

Being judged on voice, mechanics, platform deportment, organization and effectiveness, students are given five minutes of advance preparation to present a three- to five-minute speech on an assigned topic. A DUSD student since elementary school, Marciano gives gratitude to the leadership opportunities she’s been supplied with since an early age and is looking forward to attending HarvardLawSchool next fall.

“Through the Service Chapter at Downey High, my leadership has grown,” said Marciano. “I have benefited from my CTE classes and feel prepared and confident that I soon will become a lawyer.”

Phil Davis, CTE and STEM Director for DUSD who oversees the district’s participation in the SkillsUSA competition, said the district strongly believes in challenging students and continuously raising the bar.

“The district, particularly the CTE programs, focuses on rigor, relevance, and building relationships with students," he said. "By gaining trust with the students and establishing relationships, making them understand why a certain class or program matters and how it benefits them, students are willing to learn at a higher level and enjoy what they’re doing.”

Davis fully believes rigger, the difficulty of a class, can be pushed to the extreme, allowing each student to rise to the occasion, accomplishing immense educational successes.

These seven students are only a few examples of how the high levels of rigor, along with continuous changes in the demand for hands-on education, can benefit and alter a student’s future, Davis said.