Area students to compete in SkillsUSA

JOHN EATON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Wellsboro SkillsUSA Construction and Culinary Arts Club students competing at Penn College on Friday, Jan. 26, are, front row from left, Whitney DeLong in commercial baking; Kendra Kozuhowski in restaurant service and Chelsey Morris in technical math; and, back row, from left, Hailey Rice in building construction, Kelsey Janeski in plumbing, Kyra Keck in job interview and Brennan Catherman in carpentry. On the left is culinary arts teacher James Mack III and on the right, Building Construction teacher Drew Seeling. Not shown are: Briana Ryan, who is competing in culinary; Kate Huck, competing in extemporaneous speaking; Jeremy Flannery, competing in masonry; and Frankie Rexford, competing in residential wiring.


Sun-Gazette Correspondent

Fifteen SkillsUSA students from Wellsboro Area High School’s two vocational programs — culinary arts and building construction — will be among the competitors at the District 6 SkillsUSA contests Jan. 25 and 26 at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

District 6 includes students from three high schools, Milton, Wellsboro and Williamsport, and from nine career and technical centers. The high schools each provide in-house vocational training to their own students and the centers to students from multiple schools.

Judging in their areas of expertise will be Penn College students and instructors as well as professionals.

Competitors who place first will advance to the state contest and then nationals.

“Our students compete at Penn College every year,” said Drew Seeling, certified building-construction and carpentry teacher. He and James Mack III, who teaches Wellsboro culinary students, serve as advisors to Wellsboro SkillsUSA students.

“SkillsUSA is a vocational organization that helps advance our students so they have a leg up in the building and culinary trades following graduation from high school,” said Seeling. “The organization encourages the students to network with others in and out of the trades, to take on leadership roles, provides scholarships, employment opportunities and other resources and promotes technical and professional skills training. SkillsUSA opens our students’ eyes to the choices they can make for their futures,” he said.

There are 40 ninth through 12th graders in Wellsboro’s Building Construction Program and 30 10th through 12th graders in the Culinary Arts Program. To select which students would go to the SkillsUSA contests in Williamsport, Wellsboro building construction and culinary arts students competed against each other.

“This year, we had more than 30 students compete at our high school,” said Seeling. Thirteen volunteers knowledgeable about the trades served as judges. “They included parents and alumni from our program.

“It is important that our students learn how to compete under pressure. Being judged during a contest is similar to the type of pressure you feel when an owner watches you work on his house,” Seeling said.

The purpose of the District 6 SkillsUSA competitions is to push students to improve. “Pressure stretches them,” Seeling said.

“If a student is going to fall apart under pressure, I want that to happen during a contest at our high school. That is a safe environment, which allows us as teachers to help that student learn how to handle pressure and use it as a tool to grow rather than it being a paralyzing experience,” Seeling said.

“The local contests give our students practical experience. To me, that’s just as important as results,” he said.

Among the local contests at Wellsboro High, electrical students had to wire a panel box and circuit with switches, lights and outlets; in plumbing, solder copper lines and run supply and drain lines; in carpentry, frame up a wall, a window and flooring from blueprints; and in masonry, lay up a wall using blocks and brick.

There also were contests in extemporaneous speaking, in technical math used in the trades to do basic conversions and formulas and interviewing for a job.

“All of these contests are similar to ones the students will participate in at Penn College,” said Seeling.

Wellsboro students chosen to compete in the Thursday and Friday, Jan. 25 and 26 team building contest at Penn College are Zach Kephart, carpenter; Cody Bowers, plumber; Trenton Darrow, electrician and Aidan Moore, mason. During the two-day event, four-person teams will have six hours to build a four- by eight-foot house.

“The mason starts his work right away but the electrician and plumber help the carpenter until the walls are up,” said Seeling. “Then they break off into their specialties. When the mason gets done he may become a drywaller or help wherever he is needed. There is plenty to do in six hours — windows, siding, stairs, etc.,” he said.

Entered in individual contests at Penn College are Wellsboro Building Construction Program students: Brennan Catherman in carpentry, Jeremy Flannery in masonry, Frankie Rexford in electrical, Kelsey Janeski in plumbing, Hailey Rice in building construction, Kyra Keck in job interview and Kate Huck in extemporaneous speaking.

Wellsboro Culinary Arts Program students competing individually are Whitney DeLong in commercial baking, Kendra Kozuhowski in restaurant service, Chelsey Morris in technical math and Briana Ryan in culinary.

“The SkillsUSA competitions at Penn College simulate real building projects. “For our students, the contests will be practices for their real life opportunity to build a full-sized house,” said Seeling.

“In a couple of months, our masonry students competing at Penn College will be laying block at our house project,” Seeling said.

As soon as the ground thaws, Building Construction Program students will break ground for the ranch house.

“On March 16, 2017, Building Construction Program students received approval from the Wellsboro Area Board of Education to raise funds and seek donated materials to purchase a vacant lot at 104 Nichols Street and build a three-bedroom, full basement ranch-style home with a two-car garage on it,” Seeling said.

The lot was purchased on Aug. 11, 2017, but work could not start because a legal agreement detailing the relationship between the Wellsboro Area Education Foundation and the Wellsboro Area School District was not filed until Oct. 20, 2017. The foundation is designated to receive funds for the project so donors will get tax credits and to hold the mortgage on the property until construction is completed and the property is sold. The foundation will then hold the money from the sale until another property is purchased, developed and sold.

“This arrangement benefits Wellsboro SkillsUSA,” said Seeling. “The sale of the Nichols Street property will provide the Building Construction Program with seed money so future students can undertake a similar project — either construction on an empty lot, remodeling an existing house or tearing down a home and building new,” Seeling said.

The students have raised about $100,000 and are planning to raise another $30,000 within two years. They spent $45,000 to buy the property and $18,000 for materials. Remaining in the foundation account is $37,000.

“We are planning to do a few more PowerPoint presentations about the project and fill out a few more grant applications so the students can have the opportunity to work with better quality materials,” Seeling said.

“Last year, students gave presentations to local banks and foundations and sent letters to more than 100 area businesses asking for contributions of funds and materials,” said Seeling. “That helped get the word out.”

“The purpose of this project is to allow our students to experience the entire process of building a home, from start to finish,” said Seeling.

“Our construction timeline is two and a half years once work begins. Originally, the project was expected to be completed by May 2019 based on an August 2017 start date. “The finish date will probably be extended to the beginning of 2020,” Seeling said.

“We are completing the required paperwork for our zoning and building permits, including filling out forms and drawing blueprints.

“Our students are gearing up to build the house. This spring, we will do the framing and masonry work and also collect money and needed materials. Our goal is to get the house under roof before summer so interior work can be done during the 2018-2019 school year,” Seeling said.

Juniors and seniors in the Building Construction Program will do the majority of the work. Sophomores will assist by doing site work and freshman by ensuring that the work site is clean and safe.

The fact that the building site is close to the high school will allow students to walk to the construction site and then back to school.

The students will be involved in all phases of the project and benefit from learning all of the steps necessary to build a home. Part of the basement excavation and spray foam insulation will be subcontracted based on the equipment needed to do the work and the time involved.

During construction, students will have the opportunity to learn from local contractors, representatives from the local plumbers and electricians unions and a masonry instructor from Penn College and his students.