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YUHSD students place in top spots at national contest, 1 qualifies for world tryouts

By Sarah Womer @YSSarahWomer | Posted: Monday, July 14, 2014 5:48 pm

Isaiah Gaspar

A 2014 graduate of Kofa High School, Isaiah Gaspar recently took second place at the 2014 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City, Mo. He competed in the welding category against 43 other competitors. He was also invited to tryout for the SkillsUSA WorldTeam, where he would a chance to qualify to compete against students from across the globe in Brazil.

Four high school students from Yuma recently placed in the top of the competition at the 2014 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

One of those students was also invited to try out for the SkillsUSA WorldTeam, where he has a chance to qualify to compete against students from across the globe in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The international competition only takes place every two years.

A 2014 graduate of Kofa High School, Isaiah Gaspar took second place in the welding category against 43 competitors. He qualified to have an opportunity to submit a welding project to be considered for a national team that will represent the United States at the world competition in February, where he would be able to travel with his Kofa welding adviser, Ron Pixley.

“It was definitely a pretty big accomplishment for me and my instructor, Mr. Pixley. We’re really excited to get that invitation for the next stage and we look forward to that,” he said.

If Gaspar makes it to the top six spots of the tryouts, he will be flown to Atlanta, Ga., in November where the top three students from the U.S. will be narrowed down in another competition. The first-place winner will go on to compete in Brazil.

He attributed his successes in the competition to having participated last year at the national level in welding, where he took 11th place.

“It was pretty cool,” he said about taking home the silver medal this year. “It was a learning experience, and it gave me the skills if I ever want to compete again at the college level.”

During the competition he was tested in various welding processes. In order to prepare, he spent a few months practicing and making sure to pay attention to even the smallest details, which could count against him on his final score.

Other medalists from Yuma included a team of three students from Kofa who won bronze in the Career Pathways – Business, Management and Technology category.

The Kofa team consisted of recent graduates Randy Nona, Dylan Lopez and Victor Lozano. The team was up against 15 other teams at nationals.

Lozano explained that the team’s task was to present a project that it worked on over the past school year, which was to write a grant for a new Building Maintenance program for special education students on their campus and to also help mentor those students. The special education students also had an opportunity to compete this year at SkillsUSA in categories of Building Maintenance and Action Skills.

When recalling the announcement that their team was a third-place winner, Lozano said, “It’s the craziest feeling, because you’re in this arena with 35,000 plus people… Those 10 minutes of fame just made it all worth it, all the work that we put in. It was 400 plus hours of our time after school hours. We didn’t do it for us, we did it for (the special education students) – we wanted to get the word out about the program.”

Thanks to the work of the students, the Building Maintenance program for special education students at Kofa is the first of its kind in Arizona. The students received a $23,800 grant from Lowe’s to jump start the program in January.

As a part of the program the students were also responsible for budgeting, distributing and contacting businesses. The students met with Troy Dally, president of Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores during the national competition.

Nona said that the plan now is to start a Building Maintenance program at Arizona Western College, where they will all be attending in the fall. Lopez noted that they will also be mentoring other high school students to fill their shoes at Yuma Union High School District (YUHSD) campuses.

“For us it was just like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… it’s really like a fairy-tale story. It’s really extraordinary the way that this worked for us,” Lopez said.

Three other Kofa students that helped the team to mentor special education students in the program and write the grant were fellow classmates Ruby Meraz, Samantha Colossio and Angela Donelson. They also competed at SkillsUSA in the Career Pathways – Human Services category and placed 14th.

Lisa Anderson, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) at YUHSD, said that the students worked hard to prepare for the competition with their teachers and advisers. Because of their success, they got to showcase their skills and also network with other students from across the U.S. along with industry experts, Anderson said. She added that experts in the industry such as CAT, Milwaukee Tools, John Deere, and Miller sponsor the SkillsUSA contests.

Anderson said that the students’ participation in CTE classes and competitions helps to prepare them to be college and career ready by providing them with core academic and employment skills as well as technical job specific expertise.