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Sue Bush
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McCann Students:"Show What You Know"

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, January 09, 2006

Machine Technology student Savannah Tovani, 15.
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North Adams- Saws are buzzing, hammers are pounding, and computers are humming with renewed vigor at the Charles H. McCann Technical High School as the seventh SkillsUSA in-school competition unfolds throughout the school’s technical instruction classrooms.

Testing For Real Life

Most students are eager to showcase their skills and represent the school at district, state, and national SkillsUSA competitions, said 15-year-old sophomore Nicholas Daniels, a computer aided drafting student who lives in Savoy.

“It’s very competitive and it puts your school to the test,” Nicholas said of the multi-level event. “It lets us show what we know and how we use it in the workforce.”

During past competitions, McCann students have won gold, silver, and bronze medals at all competitive levels, including the national event, and those successes mean that current students have a reputation to uphold, he said.

“It sets the goals for other students to do their best and have fun doing it,” Nicholas said.

Moving To the Next Level

SkillsUSA participation includes leadership, teamwork, and character building experiences, said Northern Berkshire Regional Vocational School District Superintendent James Brosnan. The national organization has a membership of over 240,000 high school and college students and professionals. There are over 13,000 SkillsUSA chapters throughout the country and in areas including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, according to information available at the McCann school Internet web site.

“SkillsUSA allows students and the school to validate curriculum, knowledge, and ability against a national model,” Brosnan said. “We have excelled in those areas.”

Carpentry student Bryan Dearsteyn is up for SkillsUSA challenges.
Senior and freshmen students worked on their projects last week; this week, sophomores and juniors are tackling a variety of occupation-related challenges. Student work will be judged at week’s end and an announcement of the in-school medal winners is scheduled for Jan. 13.

Students or teams earning a top three placement are eligible to compete at the district level, and district level gold medal winners progress to a state level SkillsUSA competition. State-level gold medallists are invited to compete at the national event. This year’s western district event is set for March 16 at the Baypath Regional Technical High School in Charleston, the state event is scheduled for April 27-29 at the Assabet Valley Regional Vocational School in Marlboro. Kansas City, Missouri will host a June 19-23 national competition.

The program's adult advisors are Ed Allard, Tom Tinney, Terry LeClair and Cindy Scott.

This year’s competition theme is “Champions At Work: Creating A Culture of Community.”

Real World Experience

Nickolas Beer, 16, of Adams, was busy at a computer station inside a computer aided drafting classroom. The competitions are fun and edgy, especially when students compete against students from other schools, he said.

“Going against other schools is kind of cool, and it does give you a chance to show that you have good skills,” he said. “We always have [SkillsUSA] medals in our display case.”

Electricity curriculum student Brad Montgomery has earned a trio of gold medals during in-school competitions. His goal is to win gold at the state level, he said.

“I like the events,” he said. “It gets kids involved in their technical skills.”

The competitions also allow the students to see how they measure up against the people who will be competing against them in the “real world” of employment, said students Ricky Martin of Adams and Antonio Polson of Lanesboro.

“We see how good other people are,” Ricky said.

“And we can get out in the world and do something,” said Antonio.

Student enthusiasm was evident in every curriculum “shop” area, and Bryan Dearsteyn, 15, a carpentry student, was among the most motivated students.

Information Technology student Brandon Ansley tracks a computer problem.

“I love it,” Bryan said about the school. “I love carpentry, I love what I am doing and I love that I am not always in [academic] classes. I love SkillsUSA; it’s challenging. It makes my mind work faster and I love challenging everybody and knowing that I could get a first place.”

"Girls Can Do It"

Female students are tackling curriculums that were once dominated by male students and appeared confident and comfortable at their various work stations.

Savannah Tovani, 15, is enrolled as a machine technology student. “Machine tech” is among the most challenging programs academically and technically, and is also among the most popular programs offered at the school, said Principal Gary Rivers. Savannah agreed that the work, especially the trade-related math classes, is not easy.

But the young women enrolled in the program are capable students, she said.

“Everybody thinks that this is a guy’s shop and it’s not,” Savannah said. “Girls can do it.”

Sophomore students Eden Lemaire, 16, and Katrina Valotta, 15, are studying electricity.

“When I came as a freshman, I liked putting up wires and [electrical] boxes the best,” said Eden. “This year we are learning EMT and I like that. I like doing this stuff.”

“When I went through the exploratory program [a freshmen requirement that introduces incoming students to each curriculum], I liked this the best,” said Katrina. “I got the hang of it really quickly.”

Automotive Technologies students Megan Malloy, Kayleigh Wandrei and Jeremiah Wojcik
And 16-year-old Megan Malloy of Cheshire articulated what may be the best reason for her enrollment in the Automotive Technologies program.

“I’m good at vehicles,” she said.

“She does very well,” interjected instructor David Lewis.

Eyes On The Future

Graduating students leave the school qualified to enter their chosen field, and many students enter the workforce following graduation. Many others opt to further their education.

Megan said that she hopes to attend the Automotive Technology Institute after her expected 2008 graduation. Lewis noted that four 2005 automotive graduates – three males and one female- enrolled at the Universal Technology Institute.

Machine Technology students Justin Wirtes, 17, and Nick St. Jacques, 17, are planning to further their education and become engineers.

“I definitely want to go on [to school] after this,” said Nick.

Justin said that he is investigating schools such as the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for his post high school education.

“I’m still trying to decide what kind of engineer I want to be,” he said.

Polished and Poised

The benefits of SkillsUSA participation on the school’s student population are extensive, Rivers said.

“The students are involved in real-life situations with the skills that employers want to see,” he said of the competitive events. “SkillsUSA is based on national standards and that encourages our curriculum to be taught at a national standard.”

Speaking and writing skills are not overlooked during the competitions, Rivers said.

“We do employability skill competitions,” he said. “We write resumes, the students are interviewed and they give speeches. We have some kids who have become polished stars with their speaking and interview skills because of SkillsUSA.”

A Total Quality Management program, known as TQM, is coached by Michael Naughton and has earned four gold medals for the school. A SkillsUSA professional development program is used at the Hancock-based Jiminy Peak ski resort, Rivers said.

Culinary Arts student Christa Griffin operates a computerized cash register as part of a SkillsUSA project.

“You can see where our students would be light-years ahead of other students coming out of high school and looking for a job,” Rivers said. “If you could see our kids speaking before the school committee or the public- they are so polished and so poised- that’s when you are the proudest of your kids.”

Additional information about the Charles H. McCann Technical High School and SkillsUSA is available at a Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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