Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

SkillsUSA Bringing Home the Gold

Posted 05/13/2024 by Emanuel Morales-Gomez

SkillsUSA Colorado continues making an impact on TJ students and staff through the experiences it offers. photo by Mat Aviles

Thomas Jefferson’s SkillsUSA chapter returned from their state conference with a new perspective on SkillsUSA and everything that goes into it.

After eight months of hard work, the highly anticipated 2024 SkillsUSA Colorado State Leadership and Skills Conference (SLSC) arrived for SkillsUSA Thomas Jefferson High School members in Pueblo, Colorado. The conference was held from April 9th to the 11th, with plenty to do. This is an important event for SkillsUSA TJ, as SLSC provides members a simulated workplace experience where they can showcase the skills they have learned and developed through their classes. 

For example, junior Amaris Medina competed in Television (Video) Production, where she and Rachel VanWagner, also a junior, were expected to make a 60-second video in 4 hours around the topic of ending world hunger. Medina explained that she was “nervous at first, but once we started competing, I felt better about it because I was able to use skills that I learned through Spartan Edition in my competition.” Medina is glad that she went to SLSC because she was able to see how the information and skills she learned in her class are “paying off and preparing me for my future.” Getting first place in her competition did also add to her positive experience.

This admiration of seeing a student’s skills being taken out of the classroom and into the real world is not only shared by students, but also adults. As SkillsUSA TJ advisor Jonathan Howard reported, “it was inspiring to see young people working towards achieving their goals and working at their full potential.” Photography teacher Lea Rabon added that seeing students at work “brought me hope for the future because of the passion students have for their program.” Going to SLSC also brought Journalism teacher Eileen Adair “a newfound respect for what Mr. Howard and the other teachers are doing,” as well as a new perspective of what SkillsUSA is and what it does for students. “It’s incredible to see students competing in areas that are relevant to possible career paths.” 

One of the things Adair was most surprised about after going to SLSC was how “big and vast” the SkillsUSA competition is. The Career and Communication Technology (CCT) program at TJ revolves around design and technology fields, which limits students to only being allowed to compete in design, technology, and leadership competitions at SLSC. This leads to TJ staff and students, who do not know much about SkillsUSA, to not understand the scope of how extensive it is and the multitude of competitions that there are. That is why when Adair and Rabon heard about a competition where students build tiny houses, called Teamworks, they were shocked and ecstatic to see students participate in amazing events that spanned far from what they are used to, as they are more focused on the traditional trades rather than STEM-related topics.

However, this year was a bit different in terms of the competitions TJ competed in at SLSC. Senior Noah Jones competed in the Criminal Justice competition, a career field not in the CCT program. Jones is part of the Denver Police Explorers, Post 83, where he is exposed to and taught about law enforcement. Being taught by police officers allowed him to compete in the competition and win first place in the Criminal Justice competition. In this competition, Jones  had to deal with four different scenarios: fingerprinting different items, stopping a woman who has dementia during a traffic stop, interviewing a burglary victim and filling out a report, and confronting an armed and intoxicated homeless individual. This year was Jones’ first time going to SLSC and he was “shocked to see how these competitions empower students and how he was able to see his skills come to fruition and mean something.” 

While competitions are an intriguing part of SkillsUSA, there are other experiences SLSC offers to students. For example, Junior Nes Masa described SLSC as a “welcoming, but a chaotic place with everyone running to do something.” Masa added how they were able to ”visit Techspo booths, interact with VR simulations, view different competitions, meet new people, and hang out with the TJ team.” Hanging out with the TJ team was a favorite among students and staff because it was a “great bonding experience” and an amazing time to relax. 

Another thing SLSC provides for students is leadership experience. Each year, delegates from chapters vote on the next SkillsUSA Colorado State Officer team to represent the state and lead them in the coming year. TJ had two applicants run to be a State Officer and they both secured a position. Sophomore Elana Russom became the High School State Secretary and Junior Emanuel Morales-Gomez was re-elected as well. Russom revealed that she is “excited to experience everything about being a State Officer and making a difference in this organization.” One of the things she wants to accomplish in her term is to “organize more volunteering opportunities for everyone and offer more activities for people to do after competitions.” 

SLSC ended off with a bang with TJ winning gold in Criminal Justice, Television (Video) Production, 3D Visualization and Animation, and Quizbowl, as well as silver in Quizbowl, Computer Programming, Advertising Design, Interactive Application and Video Game Development, and bronze in Interactive Application and Video Game Development and Photography. TJ was also awarded a Silver Chapter of Distinction award. Howard was excited that “students were honored for their work” and cannot wait “to build off of the success of this year.”