NEW BEDFORD — To the left of the desk in the vast lobby of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, is a SkillsUSA national winners board that is fast filling up.
This June, 19 Voc-Tech students participated in 11 competitions at the 52nd SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Kentucky and placed seventh or above.
They became a part of the Massachusetts delegation that won 52 medals, the third highest in the nation for high school and post-secondary achievement and first in the nation for the most high school medals, according to a news release.
Activities ranged from extempore speaking and community service to building robots.
“It’s really awe-inspiring to see we have the best in the nation in one of our schools,” said Lori Russell-Pelsue, administrative skills instructor and SkillsUSA chapter adviser at the North End high school. “It’s a wonderful thing and it gives them a lot of confidence.”
SkillsUSA is a national organization that works with students, teachers and industry to improve the quality of America’s skilled workforce through a structured program of citizenship, leadership and professional skills training, according to the website.
State officer elect Madisyn Bozarth, 16, of New Bedford said she joined SkillsUSA in her freshman year. A junior in the media technology program, she said she was exploring the IT and childcare shops when both those teachers suggested she join and compete in the freshman competition.
Although she was initially reluctant, “I ended up joining and winning bronze that year,” she said in an email.
“Joining SkillsUSA has been one of the best decisions that I have made in high school,” she said. “SkillsUSA has made me an amazing leader in school and out in the real world. It has given me more confidence to be able to speak with people one on one or in a room full of people, and it has truly made me a better person by giving me so many personal skills and volunteering opportunities.”
Voc-Tech has participated in the organization for more than two decades but it wasn’t until recently that students there began to compete for the regional and national titles.
It begins with a test in shop classes and the top three advance to compete at the district level. Shop teachers work with participating students and winners who advance to the state and national levels after a series of competitions. They also attend a leadership conference in March.
This February, 139 Voc-Tech students competed in 45 different career and technical areas. Gold and silver medalists and some leadership students, 82 in all, then competed in 41 different areas at the state level in April. The gold medal winners at the state level represented the school at the national competition in Kentucky.
The experience has many benefits beside the personal growth many students cite; it makes for stronger college applications and even leads to jobs. Even those who participate at the school level are better prepared in leadership and understand responsibility and accountability, said Meghan Lacasse, English teacher and SkillsUSA chapter co-adviser.
Corey Teves, 19, from Fairhaven, who joined SkillsUSA as a freshman, served as the president for the state organization last year representing more than 34,000 students across Massachusetts.
“These experiences helped me with my interviews for college, applications and managing my time,” he said.
He graduated this year from the legal and protective services shop, was fifth in his class and currently attends Roger Williams University.
“It’s just an incredible experience for our students that we are happy to be a part of,” said Robert Watt, vocational principal at Voc-Tech.
Follow Auditi Guha on Twitter @AuditiG_SCT