BENNINGTON -- After six Career Development Center students were awarded gold medals at the SkillsUSA state competition earlier this year, one team of four went on to take home gold on the national stage.

The students, who were part of Kathy Slade's Medical Professions program at the CDC, participated in the Health Knowledge Bowl event, one of 99 events featuring a total of 6,000 state gold medalists from technical and vocational schools across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Guam. The other two students from CDC were participating in individual events in the categories of Promotional Bulletin Board design and Technical Drafting. The four members of the health bowl team were Mariah Armstrong, Taylor Brewer, Catherine Butler, and Emily Stadmik.

Slade said that she's been taking her students to SkillsUSA competitions for the past ten years, and in that time, her students have taken home eight national medals including three gold, two silver, and a bronze. Based on her own research, Slade said she was unable to find another program that took home more than two national medals from SkillsUSA during that period.

"It's sort of getting to the point where we're recognized, almost like the MAU wrestling team," she said, referencing that team's 26 consecutive state titles, and back-to-back New England championships.

The competition, which took place in Kansas City, was the 47th such competition, the first being held in 1967.


Advertisement

That year, SkillsUSA, then known as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, hosted 54 competitors in three events. The organization this year saw 31,764 hotel room nights booked due to the event, and estimates it had a total economic impact on the city of $16,583,625. The event also included a career fair with representatives from 21 companies in attendance. The competitions ranged from automotive service technology and radio broadcast, to cabinetmaking and mobile robotics technology.

Slade doesn't know for sure why her team has been so successful at the competitions, but points to her program's rigorous curriculum, which specifically covers the standards that the health knowledge bowl is based off of, the National Health-Care Skills Standards. "It's the perfect marriage between a great curriculum and really hard-working students," she said, noting that many other similar programs around the country tend to focus on particular areas of healthcare, and don't cover all the necessary topics to succeed in the competition in great depth.

Slade also spoke highly of Vermont's overall performance at SkillsUSA over the years. "Vermont gets a fair amount of medals, despite our size. There's a lot of really great technical education in this state," she said.

The competition itself, as Slade described it, is similar to Final Jeopardy. The four students on the team are asked a question from a particular category, and must work together to come up with an answer within 30 seconds. After, all the answers are compared and teams are awarded points. In previous years, Slade said, the teams would choose how many points they would wager on their answer, but this year it was a more simplified points-per-correct-answer based system. At the end of the competition, five teams were tied for first place, and the winner was decided with a written test, which the CDC team scored highest on.

The group received a $1,000 donation from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to help finance the trip to Kansas City. "We do rely on the generosity of places like the hospital," said Slade, "Without them the kids might not have been able to go."

Slade said the four girls had been practicing before and after school, with each teammate focusing on studying specific categories of knowledge to streamline their preparation.

"It's been a joy," she said, "I've had them for the past two years, and I'm so sad to see those four girls go. I felt like a mother, I was so proud of them."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com.