The School District of Philadelphia just earned a feather in its cap for STEM education: Kensington High School won first place at the SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference last month in the Career Pathway Showcase’s business, management and technology category.
SkillsUSA is a national organization that prepares students for technical, skilled and service careers. The Career Pathway Showcase is a contest for which high school participants created a presentation to show off their knowledge in their chosen field, and how their program is preparing them for a future career.
Seniors Angela Ramos, Jean Rivas-Rodriguez and Sammy Canela represented their school’s Computer Support Systems Technology Program, a career and technical education (CTE) program, in the Pennsylvania competition. CTE courses offer both academic learning and hands-on experience focused on a specific field.
The Kensington students first competed at the district level of the SkillsUSA competition early this year before attending the statewide competition in Hershey this April. The students will attend the national competition — dubbed “the largest gathering of America’s future skilled workforce” — in Atlanta this June to compete with schools from all over the country. They are currently fundraising $8,800 to support that trip.
“I’m excited, but I’m nervous because this is a new experience for all of us,” Ramos told Technical.ly. “We’re all nervous, but I think we’ll do good.”
The trio’s SkillsUSA presentation discussed what they’ve learned in their computer support systems program, which teaches Kensington students how to build and fix computers starting in 10th grade. The students then have the opportunity to take certification tests, including through national IT trade organization CompTIA, before they graduate. If they pass all the exams, they will graduate with five certifications.
Ramos said the class has also served as a lesson in teamwork, citing the many hours a week the class spends together.
Both Rivas-Rodriguez and Canela said they decided to take this CTE program because they were already interested in computers; Rivas-Rodriguez said he especially enjoys the hands-on element of taking computers apart and putting them back together.
Ramos noted that when she was a freshman, she didn’t know what she wanted her career to be, but decided to join the Computer Support Systems Technology Program because she loved the energy of the teacher, Shanelle Lockhart.
A winning presentation
Lockhart has been teaching this class for seven years, but this year was her first competing at the SkillsUSA competition. She said her and the students weren’t sure what to expect, so they aimed to over-prepare for the presentations.
“We just practiced, we ran through it in class — and not per se what they’re going to say, because I didn’t want it to be rehearsed. I wanted them to just speak freely, you know what you’re talking about, what you’re doing and where you’re going,” Lockhart said. “But just make sure your presentation has everything. Make sure you do your points, you hit your points, just be you.”
Lockhart said she already knew her students were amazing, but she was still shocked when Kensington was announced as the winner.
“We experienced it together, so it’s amazing,” she said. “They’re leaving me, which is sad, but going on to bigger and better things. But I mean, just three years of being together, learning — they did what they needed to do, and I’m very proud of them.”
Next up: STEM careers
After graduating this spring, all three student intend to keep some form of tech in their lives. Canela wants to pursue web design, and Ramos said she is attending Penn State to pursue health policy administration and health informatics. Rivas-Rodriguez said he wants to join the Army, and can pursue a tech career such as cybersecurity while he’s there. He’d also like to design video games, eventually.
In Lockhart’s view, programs like SkillsUSA show students they aren’t in a CTE class for nothing — that they will gain skills and connections from the experience.
“It was an opportunity. It was fun. It’s going to give them great communication, collaboration and even the technical skills,” she said, “even if they don’t, per se, go into a tech field. It’s technology. It’s everywhere. You’re going to use it somewhere.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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