Photo by Craig Moore.
Paying it forward is a big deal to Kimberly Petronella. That shouldn’t be surprising when one considers that she worked as a nurse for 25 years. Helping others is a big tool in her skillset.
Petronella was introduced to SkillsUSA when she was in high school. During her time with the organization, she competed in regional and state competitions and served as a delegate. “I met so many new people and worked on stepping outside my comfort zone to do new things,” she says. Those early experiences also helped define a commitment to excellence she’s lived by ever since. “I competed in my junior year, and my peers seemed more qualified and prepared for our competition,” she says. “It made me self-reflect and realize I never wanted to be that unprepared for anything in the future.”
Now a health occupations instructor at Herkimer Madison BOCES in New Hartford, N.Y., Petronella works hard to make sure her students are prepared by teaching them that the SkillsUSA Framework and its Essential Elements are more than just words on a poster. They need to be applied in the real world to make a difference.
“That’s really lovely if you repeat to me the words, but are you using it?” Petronella asks. “Show me an action!”
Petronella believes that incorporating the Framework begins in the classroom, and it should be part of a person’s overall outlook. “Whether it be at work, home, school, friendships, phone calls or texts, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “You should use all of those skills, all 17 [of the Essential Elements], every day.”
She compares her educational methodology with building a house. “The classroom is the foundation,” she says, explaining that is where a student begins to work on the technical skills and training they’ll need for industry. She emphasizes that the Framework must be part of the whole person if students are going to succeed, whether at school or a career.
“You’ve put the foundation in with your trade, then you put SkillsUSA, and you weave it in,” she explains. “When you put the floor in a house, it has to be attached to the foundation, so you have to weave those together.”
Petronella uses the SkillsUSA Framework “Quotes to Results” cards to help students see that connection. The activity works like this: A student selects a card and Petronella asks them to read the quote on it.
“They read the quote, and I say, ‘O.K., what does that mean to you personally?’”
Next, Petronella asks them to take the same quote and then consider how it could be incorporated into their profession. This gets students thinking about how those Essential Elements are applicable everywhere.
The Framework in Action
Petronella was able to see how the students applied those lessons in a real-world situation this past June. During the 2022 National Leadership & Skills Conference in Atlanta, several of her students approached her with a confession: They had been unprofessional during the morning’s Leverage sessions and felt they had not shown proper leadership as a team.
Concerned, Petronella set up a time where she could sit down with the team and discuss the situation.
“I said … ‘Okay. Well, what happened?’ … And [one of the students] says, ‘Well, during presentations, we were not respectful of our facilitator, and we were talking when we shouldn’t have been talking.’”
Petronella couldn’t help but be proud that her students recognized their behavior and were working to correct it. But what really stood out in their team discussions was how the students were analyzing their behavior through the lens of the Framework.
Petronella went on to share that the students discussed how they could have shown a better work ethic and teamwork during the sessions and how they weren’t always being mindful of diversity when it came to understanding that some people can’t take notes as fast as others.
She was impressed that they were able to apply these principles to a real-world experience so quickly. They showed leadership and teamwork by working as a group to solve the problem.
“Every one of them spoke and nobody argued,” she says.
It was a moment of deep pride for Petronella.
“Now you see how it works,” she told the students. “Now you know that this is just not a poster on a wall. You’re using all of those Essential Elements to have a conversation resolve conflicts without causing anybody to feel like they were inferior or it was [their] fault. And you did it all as a team!”
Generating a Buzz
That practical example of applying the Essential Elements to an actual problem only strengthened Petronella’s belief that teaching the Framework can lead to a well-rounded student and employee. “Take away the fancy triangle, take away all the colors, take away all that. Those are just words you should live by when you’re functioning in life,” she says.
Her advice for teachers considering getting involved in SkillsUSA? “Take advantage of any opportunity SkillsUSA provides to you to foster your development as an educator. Attend your Fall Leadership Conference, log onto SkillsUSA Absorb and use the educational materials that are provided there.”
But it all comes back to the Framework for Petronella.
“I firmly believe that the Framework and Essential Elements cannot just be buzz words we use in conversation; they need to be the core of what and how we teach. Model the skills and attributes you want your chapter member to learn and develop, and the outcomes will be amazing.”
Those amazing outcomes were recognized at State Farm Arena in June when Petronella was named SkillsUSA’s Advisor of the Year at SkillsUSA’s National Leadership & Skills Conference. The award recognizes SkillsUSA’s most dedicated career and technical education instructors. Five regional finalists are selected each year and one is ultimately named the Advisor of the Year. Based on the positive impact they have on their students’ lives, however, they are all winners.
Regional Advisors of the Year
Kenneth Brown (Region 2, North Carolina)
In the 1980’s, Kenneth Brown was a student at Richlands (N.C.) High School, roaming the same halls he does today as one of the school’s teachers. “My senior year, I had no idea what career I wanted,” he says, “so my parents suggested I visit the guidance counselor. When I did, she pointed to a shelf and told me to look through the college catalogs to find a profession.”
It wasn’t exactly the “guidance” Brown was looking for, but it did at least get him started on his search, one which eventually led to a passion for architectural drafting. A degree from Pitt Community College led to a “temporary” job as a drafting teacher at Richland. That “temporary” position is still going strong after 22 years. “As a teacher, I never want a student to go into his or her future having no sense of direction,” he says. My philosophy is to expose students to my content area and to present every possible career option.”
Brown knows that future employees sit in his classes and SkillsUSA chapter meetings. Therefore, he sees his job as not only to teach the curriculum, but to prepare students to enter their careers ready to be reliable workers. “Now I get the opportunity to see these kids in high school that [are like] me in 1984,” he says. “I get to help them figure out a career early.”
Brown aligns his lesson plans and chapter meetings to include skill sets from the SkillsUSA Framework, saying, “It is my philosophy that teaching content alone to students will not send competent, well-rounded people into the workforce. Instead, the content needs to be taught along with essential skills from the Framework to make sure students become the types of professionals that can excel in the occupation of their choice.”
Warren Caskey (Region 3, Ohio)
A dedicated criminal justice instructor, Warren Caskey served in the U.S. Army for four years before going on to college and receiving his master’s degree in career and technical education. He enjoyed a career in law enforcement for 30 years, serving as a patrol officer, school resource officer, detective, police chief and security driver.
In 2013, Caskey was hired as a criminal justice instructor and volunteered to become the school’s SkillsUSA advisor. He’s also a SkillsUSA Ohio state advisor and annually leads a team of Courtesy Corps students at SkillsUSA Ohio’s State Leadership & Skills Conference.
Caskey believes that SkillsUSA gives students an opportunity to explore their job interests while learning how to be career ready. To help them in that regard, he enforces workforce standards like dress code and behavior expectations in his class, and he puts students in positions with responsibility and accountability.
Caskey teaches the Essential Elements of the SkillsUSA Framework in many different activities during the school year. “Having my classroom being student-led is key to students adopting the Framework,” he says. “They need to see their peers practice the ideals and activities in a professional way, providing a positive example in real-life practice.”
Jesse Zweep Region 4 (Nebraska)
Jesse Zweep has spent the last 15 years of his career at Louisville Public Schools in Nebraska. There, he teaches automotive, welding, small engines and home maintenance, an eighth-grade “Exploring Technology” course and a SkillsUSA leadership class. He has been a SkillsUSA advisor since starting the school’s chapter in 2007.
In the time since, he’s been an advisor for state officer teams, assisting in leadership training and conference planning. He serves on the SkillsUSA Nebraska Board of Directors, and in both 2013 and 2022, he was named SkillsUSA Nebraska’s Advisor of the Year.
Zweep incorporates the SkillsUSA Framework into his curriculum, saying, “The Essential Elements of the Framework help each student learn, practice and achieve their goals. By developing, practicing and applying elements like job-specific skills, teamwork, professionalism, communication and integrity, students are building their own road map for success.”
Zweep says he can tell when a student “gets” the Framework because they suddenly “have confidence to take it upon themselves to know what path they want to go on and know what things they want to learn, but also help someone else.”
Zweep advocated for the introduction of a SkillsUSA class in his school, and, for the last three years, students in grades 9-12 have been able to enroll in a class where they learn SkillsUSA’s creed, colors, motto, officer positions and methods of planning and organizing the organization’s Program of Work. The students also plan and participate in a community service project, and each completes OSHA training.
Zweep sees career and technical education as a journey rather than a destination, adding, “It’s the variety of courses, the project-based learning and the connection to real-world experiences that make CTE so valuable and important. I never see my day of teaching as a chore, but as a blessing.”
Troy Reichert Region 5 (Wyoming)
“My philosophy on the value of career and technical education is a very simple one,” Troy Reichert says. “It doesn’t just teach you what you need to know; it teaches you how to grow.”
Reichert’s lived that philosophy throughout his life. As a young person growing up on a Nebraska farm, he didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school, but he knew he wanted to work with his hands. He was introduced to SkillsUSA while attending college and eventually won the state carpentry competition in Nebraska.
After graduating, he began a teaching career that started in Nebraska but has since placed him at Guernsey-Sunrise High School in Wyoming, where he’s served as a CTE teacher for the last 13 years. Reichert was selected as the Wyoming VFW Teacher of the Year in 2017 and was also a prize-winning teacher for the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence in 2019. Under his leadership, Guernsey-Sunrise High School’s SkillsUSA chapter membership has grown from five in 2019 to more than 60 in 2022 and now includes a new middle school chapter.
“Anybody, regardless of any background, has a chance to make a career in career and technical education,” he says.
Reichert knows that learning and applying the Essential Elements of the Framework are crucial to the success of students, both in school and when they go into the workforce. “All three parts of the SkillsUSA Framework, along with the 17 Essential Elements, overlap well,” he says, “and when developed properly, they will lead any student to a very successful and long career.”
How can Reichert tell when a student really understands the Framework? “When they are ready to lead,” he says. “Once they start showing those basic ideas, it’s pretty easy for them to realize the future potential they have.”
SkillsUSA’s 2022 Advisor of the Year finalists represent tens of thousands of selfless, caring SkillsUSA advisors across the nation who work to make their students career ready. We thank them all for the life-changing work they do every single day.