COVENTRY — Coventry Regional Career and Technical Center nabbed more medals than ever before during this year’s SkillsUSA Rhode Island Championships, with 29 students awarded medals in gold, silver or bronze after demonstrating expertise in competitions that invited them to showcase their varied abilities.

In June, 11 gold medalists from Coventry will head to Atlanta, Georgia to compete against their counterparts from across the country in the National Leadership and Skills Conference. 

For junior Ayana DeSimone and the other two members of her crime scene investigation team, it was hardly believable when they were announced as gold medalists during an awards ceremony last month. 

“It was definitely unexpected,” DeSimone said. “We were genuinely surprised and very excited, because it’s amazing to be given the opportunity to go as far as Georgia to compete in nationals.”

DeSimone worked alongside Lily Chace and Olivia Terra. The team practiced as often as it could, Chace said, even coming together during school vacation to run through various scenarios. 

Still, Chace admitted, they didn’t expect to win.

“The three of us sat down and were like, ‘we’ve done our best, we’ve put in work, but we just want to have fun and if we lose then we did our best and that’s OK,’” she said, recalling meeting with her teammates the day before they were to compete. 

When it was announced that they’d won, she added, their “jaws dropped.”

Kayla Kennedy, a criminal justice student, was similarly surprised to learn she’d made it to nationals. Kennedy earned her gold medal in a job skills demo competition, having chosen to demonstrate her crime scene photography skills.  

Kennedy was so sure she wasn't going to win, in fact, that she skipped the awards ceremony. 

“I was like, there’s no way I’m winning anything,” she said. “Come to find out I won gold.”

In the T-shirt design competition, senior Alexis Shylanski also earned a gold medal for her design featuring waves and a lighthouse. 

Competitors are tasked each year with creating a design that represents Rhode Island, Shylanski explained. They can either resubmit a design from a previous year, she said, or create an entirely new one. 

“It’s always better to do a fresh start, in my opinion,” said Shylanski, who came in sixth place for her design in last year’s competition. 

Shylanski, who will present the same design at the national competition, was thrilled to learn that this year her design took first in the state. 

“It’s really important to always compete again if you have the opportunity,” she said. “I took what I learned from the sixth place and brought it to the first place. 

Yu Pan, who earned gold in advertising design, also applied what she’d learned in previous competitions in showcasing her advertisement for the Community College of Rhode Island’s Rhode Island Promise program. 

Pan competed last year, so going into this year’s competition she had a better understanding of the process. Pan prepared by conducting extra online research, she said, and watched videos of poster critiques so that she could impress the judges with her own.

Sarah Correia, Kyle Fraser and Emma Levesque took home gold medals, as well, this time in a competition that Coventry had never entered before this year.  

“It feels good,” Correia, a junior, said of earning gold in engineering design technology. “We had very limited time, so we were happy with what we were able to do.”

Correia’s team learned what the competition entailed only two days beforehand, she said, but in just five hours were able to build a robot that could pick up items and place them into a basket.  

In medical math, a competition that included determining medication dosages, sophomore Marisa Catanzaro also won gold. 

And taking gold in the nurse assisting competition was Haley Hug, a senior who joined the health careers program at the career and tech center in hopes that it would help prepare her for a career as a paramedic. 

In addition to its gold medalists, Coventry also saw 11 of its 84 competitors awarded silver medals while seven earned bronze.

Earning silver SkillsUSA medals this year were Blake Studley in advertising design; Ronin Carderelli and Jayden Carnevale in biotechnology; Noah Aldana and Jonathan Leach in cybersecurity; Zoey Fontaine in early childhood studies; Carlton Burgess, Elizabeth Curran and Jean Staubley in engineering design technology; Aidan Simao in job interview; and Abigail Thibodeau in nurse assisting. 

This was the first year that Coventry had entered the biotech competition, currently run only at the state level. The teams were challenged with running gel electrophoresis, a method used to separate strands of DNA, Carnevale said.

“You use it to find similarities between different people’s DNA,” the high school senior explained. “It can be used for crime scenes and things like that.” 

This being the first time that the school had competed, Carnevale said that he and Carderelli were unsure what to expect.

“Me and my partner were just kind of hoping to have fun and get a good experience out of it, because it’s something we both want to do later on in life,” said Carnevale, who after starting as a ninth grader in the welding program enrolled in a biotech class and now plans to pursue a master’s degree in the field. 

“We weren’t really expecting to get a medal,” Carnevale continued, “we were just happy to be there.”

And in the end, he and Carderelli earned the second spot out of 15 teams from across Rhode Island. 

Simao’s silver medal, meanwhile, came from his performance in the job interview competition. 

A sophomore at the high school, Simao was asked a series of interview questions, like: what’s a book you’ve read recently that you found impactful? Simao wasn’t expecting that question, he said, nor was he expecting it when the judges — a group of human resources professionals — requested that he ask them a question.

“I asked them what they look for in interviews, what they see as red flags, what are green flags,” he recalled, adding that he credits his success in the competition partly to remaining relaxed and making eye contact.

Simao has been chosen to serve next year as a state officer for SkillsUSA, a role currently filled by Studley. 

“Career and technical education is closing the skills gap,” said Studley, a junior at Coventry High School. “It’s getting all of us ready for the workforce — leaving the Career and Tech Center, I’m going to be going into college with skills that some other students won’t have going into college.”

For Adrian Lunardelli, a senior who works as a certified nursing assistant in a nursing home, his hope is that the experiences he's had in high school will help in pursuing a career as a nurse.

“I like to help people,” he said. “Being a CNA, I can walk out of my job knowing that I was able to help somebody who wasn’t able to help themselves.”

Lunardelli earned a bronze medal in first aid and CPR. He said that during the competition, he thought back to his actions in real situations that required him to use his first aid skills.

For junior Lucy Colby, whose efforts in the commercial baking competition earned her a bronze medal, the experience of competing against other talented bakers at Johnson & Wales University may have convinced her to pursue culinary beyond high school.

This is only Colby’s first year in the career and tech center’s culinary arts program. Since entering high school she’s tried her hand at several different programs, from graphics to education studies to culinary arts, and had been thinking of trying something else in her senior year. 

“Now I think I’m going to keep going with [culinary] because it was just a really great experience,” said Colby, who was tasked with decorating a cake and baking braided bread loaves, chocolate cookies and jalapeño corn muffins for the competition. “I want to stay committed to figure out where I want to go with it.”

Ashley Klingberg, a senior, also earned a bronze medal. This one in criminal justice, the competing students had to respond to each of four scenarios: a motor vehicle stop, a domestic violence call, a 911 hangup and a suspicious person. 

“You have to respond to those accordingly,” said Klingberg, who after winning first in the state competition last year earned second at nationals, held virtually. 

Other bronze medalists were Grace Petrarca and Westin Palumbo, who took third in biotechnology; Lila Maiato, who won bronze in cosmetology; and Luke Lapham, whose welding skills earned him third place. 

Beyond the medals taken home, one Coventry student had his design selected for a statewide SkillsUSA pin that was worn by competitors and judges. 

“I thought it would be a good idea to keep it simple,” Noah Gaudreau said of his winning design, which depicted the SkillsUSA logo and an anchor surrounded by a circle wave. 

With more students than ever before planning to attend the national SkillsUSA championship competitions, fundraising efforts are now underway.

“The more money we raise, the less we have to ask from the students,” said Earl Read, a criminal justice teacher at Coventry’s career and tech center and the local SkillsUSA chapter advisor, who estimates it could cost up to $30,000 for everyone to make the week-long trip to Atlanta.

“The kids have a blast,” Read added of the national event, “and they meet people from all over the country.”

While he celebrates Coventry’s 29 medalists, Read has his own accomplishment to celebrate, too: he was just named advisor of the year by SkillsUSA Rhode Island. 

“I love Skills,” Read said. “I’ve been impressed with this since day one.”

A Bingo night fundraiser, to be held sometime in May, will feature food prepared by the culinary students, various games set up in the courtyard and prizes for winners. Plans for a pancake breakfast are also in the works.

“We need people from the community — parents, kids — to come down here and have fun to help everybody go to nationals and represent Coventry,” said Will Chace, a sophomore and vice president of the local SkillsUSA chapter executive board. 

And beyond the national competitions, Simao said his goal as he steps into his state officer role is to help SkillsUSA expand into more schools — in Coventry, Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School has recently started its own SkillsUSA program.

“I’ve been the advisor for four years, and I’m very impressed,” Read said of Coventry's SkillsUSA chapter and the talent of the students involved. “It’s only going to get bigger.”

Those who would like to donate toward the trip to nationals or who wish to sponsor a student can call Lori Ferguson, director of the Regional Career and Technical Center at Coventry High School, at (401) 822-9400 ext. 283.

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(1) comment


I liked the photo. Visuals like that have an eloquence of their own. People seemed to be happy, fulfilled, content. Based upon accomplishments. That's always cool.[thumbup][batman][pirate]

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