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Occupational Olympics test job skills of local teenagers
Hughson High School wins small school overall
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Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar (right) interviews CHS student Brandon Beck during the Occupational Olympics. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Hughson High School took the small school overall award in the 29th annual Stanislaus County Occupational Olympics and Career Exposition held March 26 at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. Turlock High School won the large school overall award.

Approximately 750 students from Stanislaus County high schools - including 15 from Central Valley High School in Ceres - participated in 22 competitive events. In addition to the competitive events, 60 business/industry representatives exhibited and spoke to students during the Career Expo.

Students were rated on knowledge of their field of interest, ability to perform tasks using appropriate tools, and employability skills. Representatives from local business and industry judged students in competitive events including, agricultural engineering, automotive technology, criminal justice, fashion design, firefighter candidate, job seeking skills, marketing mathematics, robotics, retail selling, and welding. Plaques were awarded to the top three participants in each event, and the top eight finalists received ribbons.

Students from Hughson and Ceres who won gold medals in their respective competitions included:

• Colton Young (Hughson High), first place in Agricultural Equipment Technology.

• Mark Borges (Hughson High), first place in Portfolio Review.

• Estaban Villafan (Central Valley High), first place in Small Engine Technology.

Second place silver medalists included:

• Travis Trethewey (Ceres High), second place in Criminal Justice.

• Nicole Perry (Hughson High), second place in Introduction to Business Applications.

• Amanda Cockrell (Hughson High), second place in Job Seeking Skills.

• Kristian Wehrman and Jose Nunez (Ceres High), second place in Robotics Technology.

Third place bronze medal winners included:

• Zachary Rose (Hughson High), third place in Floriculture.

• Arashdeep Kaur (Hughson High), third place in Introduction to Business Applications.

• Jenna Silva (Hughson High), third place in Job Seeking Skills.

• Eric Munoz and Austin Thiry (Central Valley High), third place in Robotics Technology.

• Cristina Quezada (Central Valley High), third place in Small Engine Technology.

This marked the 20th year that Ceres High School dispatched a team to compete in the Law Enforcement Investigation competition. Law enforcement teacher Randy Cerny said that eight students enrolled in criminal justice classes at CHS competed in Turlock among 24 students from throughout the county.

Students played the role of an officer to investigate a mythical crime. After interviewing the "victim," competitors questioned two witnesses, 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 Jeff Mangar and Tony Colacito then quizzed the students about their findings to determine if a warrant can be filed.

Both said they 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.

"This really helps them understand the importance to communicate well verbally and write concise reports," said Cerny.

"In the last 20 years we've done well. Sometimes we win, sometimes we come in second or third but it's a good program for all these kids. The students who are explorers in the various police departments tend to do a little bit better than the average student. That's because they have that real world experience already."

Cerny said the career outlook for law enforcement is better than in recent years with agencies now rehiring to fill positions that were subjected to layoffs.

Central Valley High FFA adviser and ag teacher Brian Mortensen helped oversee the floriculture competition, which involved seven students from his school. 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.

Mortensen said some students have turned to floriculture jobs as a way of working part-time through college.

More than an opportunity for students to exhibit the knowledge they already have, the Occupational Olympics also serves as a reminder for students to work hard at what they want to achieve, a necessary trait to have in the work force.

"These are not things you can learn in a week. You have to work on it before school, during school and after class to be prepared," said Brandon Romo, a Denair High School senior.

While student performance ranged from advanced to beginner, the event serves students of every level, as it not only introduces them to potential career paths but allows them to receive constructive advice on how to hone their craft if they are interested in pursuing some of these technical trainings for a career.

"The biggest thing is that this is a big opportunity to see connections to the real world and see the business industry," said Troy Gravatt, agricultural mechanics instructor at Oakdale High School.

Heather Adney, who is now an FFA advisor at Cesar Chavez and Mae Hensley junior highs, is lobbying for the event to include eighth-graders next year.