Imagine working hard all year and achieving eligibility to compete. You follow a rigorous practice schedule, then pack up your uniform and gear to go to the big state conference.
Sounds familiar for high school teams in sports, music, speech and the arts -- but have you heard about going to state for career and technical education?
Last month, that happened for eight DuPage-area high school students enrolled at Technology Center of DuPage. For them, the results rivaled the excitement of an Illinois High School Association state conference, but more about that later.
Every spring, thousands of high school students enrolled in CTE programs test their acquired knowledge, skills and leadership qualities at state conferences hosted by a variety of Career and Technical Student Organizations. Their team uniforms could be chef whites, business suits, hard hats or scrubs. The gear might include tool sets, mannequin heads or stethoscopes.
CTSOs are student organizations authorized by the U.S. Congress through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act. They include HOSA Future Health Professionals, SkillsUSA (technical, skilled and service careers), and seven other diverse organizations (see ctsos.org for a complete list and descriptions).
The common thread among these organizations is alignment with 79 CTE-identified career pathways, thereby connecting students to a larger network beyond the classroom.
Operating at national, state and local levels, CTSOs also share common organizational goals of academic and career achievement, leadership development, professional development and community service.
A 2007 study by the National Research Center for CTE found that student involvement in CTSO activities fosters higher levels of academic motivation, engagement, grades, self-confidence, college aspirations and employability skills.
With 94 percent of all U.S. students participating in a CTE class or program during their high school experience, CTSOs engage students regardless of learning style or scholastic aptitude.
Those are the facts. Now, back to the "big game."
At TCD, students in the health science programs may join our chapter of HOSA Future Health Professionals. Through HOSA's partnership with STEM Premier, students make connections with scholarship and internship opportunities, as well as related colleges, universities and employers. They also may build competencies, begin networking and test their skill level through participation in state and national conferences.
This year, eight students in TCD health science programs qualified via written examination to compete March 1 to 3 at the Illinois HOSA State Leadership Conference in Decatur, Illinois. Seven are enrolled in TCD's Fire Science/Emergency Medical Technician program; one in the Nursing Assistant Training Program.
The EMT contest requires students to compete in pairs, so TCD's students partnered up by school affiliation: Matt Watson and Olivia Rydholm, Naperville Central; Angela Flammini and Jordan McDonnell, Glenbard West; and Ethan McReynolds and Jordan Stern, Neuqua Valley.
EMT senior Delaney Wozniak of Glenbard East and NATP student Jon Maghirang of Downers Grove South competed in the Home Health Aide contest.
"You actually don't find out if you qualified to compete until you get to the conference," said Ethan McReynolds, "but the conference is more than just competitions."
The three-day conference also includes educational symposiums, college information and the opportunity to network with health industry professionals.
Participants prepare for any practical skill within contest guidelines, but the specific skills and scenario remain a secret until a team competes. This year, each EMT team (armed with its carefully packed equipment bag) had 10 minutes to assess, treat and stabilize a "patient" with a specified injury or illness, call for resources, and contact the hospital with a report.
Results were announced at the conference's concluding dinner. All eight DuPage students placed in the top 10 of their main contests -- including an exciting 1-2-3 sweep in the EMT division.
McReynolds and Stern are the state champions, followed by Flammini and McDonnell in second place and Rydholm and Watson in third place. Nursing assistant student Maghirang placed third in Home Health Aide.
The top three winners of each contest are eligible to advance to the National HOSA Conference in June in Orlando, Florida.
"It made us confident that we could actually do this, that we could perform well in the field," Jordan Stern said.
When the triumphant but tired HOSA team members got back to TCD, they carried all their gear and equipment into the EMT program area.
"Wow," said Matt Watson, looking around, "suddenly this place seems so small!"
That is the goal of career and technical education and its CTSOs: broadening horizons.
Up next: In a couple weeks, more students enrolled in TCD programs will go to Springfield for the annual state leadership conference sponsored by another CTSO: SkillsUSA Illinois. They will join 1,000 students statewide who have qualified, via written exam, to compete in at least one of 100 practical contests representing different technical, trade and leadership fields. Look for an update in next month's column.
• Mike Zimmerman is director for the DuPage Area Occupational Education System, the governing body for Technology Center of DuPage and other career and technical education delivery sites in the region. See tcdupage.org for participating member high schools and information about TCD's advanced CTE programs. Community members may arrange a visit to TCD by calling (630) 691-7572.