WAYNESBURG – The famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo,” took on new meaning when nine students from Greene County Career and Technology Center headed south in July for the Family Career and Community Leaders of America National Leadership Conference.
The students qualified to compete against thousands of other students at the national conference in San Antonio, Texas, after placing at the state competition held in Lancaster last spring. Their projects ranged from anti-bullying to creating a restaurant. Students who spoke about the experience last week said they learned as much from the cultural diversity in San Antonio and cuisine as they did from the conference itself.
Waynesburg Central High School junior Tracy Black came away with one of two bronze medals from the group for her work as an environmental ambassador. Black’s presentation focused on the proper disposal of expired and unwanted pharmaceuticals and the effects they have in public water sources.
The second bronze medal went to recent Jefferson-Morgan graduate Brandon Newhouse, who presented on nutrition and wellness.
Black said the trip made her want to travel and experience more places. Black was never so far from home before.
“I don’t think I could go back there and have the same experience. Before I left I was really nervous but it was amazing,” she said. “We ate at all of these different restaurants. I got to try alligator. It was like chicken with a different texture. That was awesome. I thought, ‘Why not?’”
The students and chaperones took a trip to the Alamo Mission. For Black, it was the first time hearing about the battle.
“I never even heard about the Alamo before I went down there. I came home and bought a Johnny Cash CD. I love Johnny Cash. And, there was this song, “(Remember the) Alamo” on it and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been there,’” Black said. “Then, there was a movie about it on the Western channel.”
Waynesburg Central High School student Richard Sager was behind the concept for a new Italian restaurant he named Abruzzo’s. Sager said he spent more than 300 hours compiling building code data, tax information, working on blue prints with his counterparts in drafting and doing a cost analysis. He even selected the location he felt was best suited, based on traffic and proximity to the interstate.
When Sager reached out to local and state government agencies, they provided the information to round out his presentation. The hard work paid off with a gold medal.
“I decided to put it at the Greene County Airport. They have two-acre lots that can be leased for $10,000 per year for 50 years. That is crazy cheap and helped to keep me on budget,” Sager said. “It was all real information.”
The team of Michaela Milliken of Jefferson-Morgan and Christopher Menear of Mapletown were the other gold medalists at the competition. Menear was a 2014 graduate.
Milliken, currently a junior, credited Menear for his strong presentation skills. Their project was in the Interpersonal Communications category, which focused on ways to improve the operation of a business. Their research came from visiting three area restaurants. The pair created a brochure outlining ways to improve communications and presented it to the businesses.
A trio of students from Child Care and Support Services Management program, Britanie Housel, Breanna Jordan and Carleigh Riley, left with silver medals. It was the first time students from this program at the GCCTC competed at the national competition.
They selected the topic of anti-bullying for the Focus on Childcare category after encountering family members and friends who experienced bullying. None of the three students, juniors from Carmichaels Area School District, experienced bullying.
“There is a lot of it going on around the school and a couple of our family members were being bullied, so we thought it was a good way to bring it into the project,” said Riley, who did much of the speaking for the three. “We wanted to raise more awareness. We ended up finding out some facts that were kind of shocking to us.”
They estimated 60 to 70 percent of students they spoke to said they were bullied at some point. Parents backed up what their children were saying for the most part, but in many instances, were unaware it was taking place, they said. Among their peers at GCCTC, roughly 30 percent said it happened to them, Riley said.
Jordan said the group had an opportunity to give their presentation on the subject to the fourth-grade class at Carmichaels Elementary Center.
“We came up with the idea of creating a ‘bully box.’ They (students) could drop a note in there letting a teacher know someone bullied them or someone was being bullied,” Jordan said. “They liked that idea. One teacher said if it wasn’t made a school-wide thing he would still do it in his classroom.”
They found boys tended to keep the bullying to themselves, while girls tended to become more emotional about it. In fact, one girl started crying while the subject was discussed, because it happened to her so recently. They felt good about directing her to an adult who could help.
The girls said their research, combined with the trip to Texas, emphasized to them how those who are perceived as different often become the objects of bullies.
“There were so many different cultures in San Antonio,” Jordan said. “All the people were very nice. It wasn’t like anything we expected.”
Riley said the trip taught them to brush off stereotypes.
“It shouldn’t be like that,” she said.
The fourth silver medalist from the group was Paige Bedilion of Jefferson-Morgan, who came up with a new product, O’ Solo Mio pizza spice, for the food innovations category. Her work included product development from conception through marketing.
Culinary Arts instructor Dan Wagner said he couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to take on a trip like this, noting they were all dedicated, hard-working and mannerly. He said he had to tip his hat to the families of the students.
Hearing nine names of GCCTC students announced as winners at the state competition left Wagner flabbergasted, he said. It wasn’t that he lacked confidence in the GCCTC students, he added. He simply knew finding funding for nine students was going to be a long shot. The most that went in the past was two. A teacher from a Pittsburgh area school at the conference told Wagner there was no way it would happen.
But, as Wagner said it, Karen Pflugh, the administrative director at GCCTC, didn’t stop to think about the cost. She told Wagner she would make it happen. Pflugh didn’t want to take credit. She said funding for each of the students came from the home school district sending them and she was just doing her job before adding that it wasn’t an option to say no.
“I knew what attending one of these conferences is like for the students. I’ve been on both sides of this as a teacher and administrator. I’ve seen the look in the students eyes when they go there,” she said. “I firmly believe in that learning experience. I know what kids really do to get to that level. These are real products and services they create.
“They didn’t just get it handed to them. They had to work for it. An experience like this can be life changing.”