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Student job know-how put to test
Morgan Lewis
Morgan Lewis, a Hughson High student, laughs at her struggle to hook up a spreader to a tractor during the annual Occupational Olympics held Thursday at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Hughson High School junior Morgan Lewis hopped into the seat of a Kubota tractor, started it and began to follow a checklist of steps in the competition at the annual Occupational Olympics and Career Exposition at the Turlock Fairgrounds Thursday. Judges watched as she backed the tractor up to a scraper, and hopped off to align holes with pins to make a connection. It was a battle.

She appeared flustered. Shanks and the weight of the spreader prevented her from nudging it forward to line everything up.

"How is this even possible?" said Lewis, half amused while analyzing her options.

Randy Garcia, a judge from Mid Cal Ag Services, gave her some gentle tips to help out. In no time she had it. She hooked it up, moved it to a different spot where it was unhooked again - and forgot to shut off the engine.

Garcia explained that he couldn't adjust the shanks for a girl with less muscle strength and keep things fair.

"It's a competition between them but it's more of a learning thing," said Garcia. "She didn't give up. We try to help them. We don't want them to get frustrated and discouraged."

Lewis said this wasn't her first time on a tractor.

"It's cold and that's a tractor I've ever driven before," she explained.

Morgan, who takes welding, floral and plant science classes at Hughson High, said what she learned at the event will help in her job at Hughson Farm Supply.

"I know I want to pursue my ag business degree, but for what business I'm not sure yet."

She was one of about 700 high school students from throughout the county who were tested in their respective 20 fields of occupational knowledge. Students were tested in agricultural engineering, automotive technology, criminal justice, floral arrangement, fashion design, firefighter candidate, job seeking skills, marketing math, robotics and welding.

Inside one of the Fair buildings, Ceres High School teacher Randy Cerny was busy running law enforcement students through a competition testing their knowledge of processing a robbery at a convenience store either as a witness, victim or police officer presenting evidence to the district attorney.

Ceres High School provided 10 of the 28 students in law enforcement competitions while 14 CHS students provided security for the event. Other competitors came from Turlock and Modesto high schools.

Cerny's program has generated a lot of interest. In years past Central Valley and Hughson high students were allowed into the law enforcement classes.

"We've had such a high demand on our campus, we're maxing out on our enrollment so we don't have room any more for Central Valley or Hughson," said Cerny.

He estimates that 200 of his former students in the program since 1994 are now in law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels. They include state Department of Corrections officers, 9-1-1 dispatchers, custodial and patrol sheriff's deputies and city police officer.

"That's one of the things that keep me going," said Cerny. "There are seven of our former students who are Ceres PD officers. Lt. Chris Perry was in my very first class. Roy Hoback, who is a sergeant at the Sheriff's Department and is part of the transition team opening up the brand-new jail, was in my original class. In fact, his kids are at the high school now."

Criminal justice program students roleplayed a victim, a witness and an officer to investigate a fictional crime. After interviewing the "victim," competitors questioned the witness, taking down suspect and vehicle information, writing a written narrative of their findings and presenting their findings with two actual prosecutors from the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office. Deputy district attorneys then quizzed the students about their findings to determine if a warrant could be filed. Both critiqued students on their thoroughness and accuracy, ability to clearly and concisely synopsize an incident; check for sufficient details; and judged overall appearance, confidence and presence.

Central Valley High FFA adviser and ag teacher Brian Mortensen helped oversee the floriculture competition.

Floriculture students competed against one another to correctly identify 25 house plant varieties, 25 cut flowers and 25 tools of the trade. They also had to evaluate arrangements in order of marketability, from best to worst; as well as judge the quality of house plant and potted plants. The end of the competition included corsage making using flowers, wire, tape and hot glue - in 30 minutes or less.

Outside the buildings were exhibits highlighting jobs with the California Highway Patrol, Turlock Police SWAT, city of Turlock Parks & Recreation and Universal Technical Institute. The Army offered a climbing wall activity.

Below is a compilation of the first- through third-place local winners by event:

Agricultural Equipment Technology - first place, Nick Ruff (Hughson); and second place, Evan Hollaway (Hughson);

Criminal Justice - third place, Lizbeth Prado of Ceres High School;

General Marketing - first place, Megan Agueda (Hughson High), and third place, Michelle Borges (Hughson);

Robotics - third place, Central Valley High School team of Benjamin Barajas and Chistobal Barajas.

The large school overall award went to Oakdale High School while the small school overall award went to Orestimba High School in Newman.