High school, for many students, is a four-year voyage of discovery; a time of social growth, social awkwardness and quite possibly some learning thrown in for good measure.
For some students from Emerson and Union Hill high schools in Union City, high school also gives them specific skills they can apply directly to a career.
Eight students from these two high schools aren't waiting until college to decide what they want to do with their lives. They were recognized last week in ceremonies held at the offices of the Union City Board of Education for competing in a contest at the end of March sponsored by the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).
The FCCLA is a national organization based in Reston, Va. that "focus[es] on the multiple roles of family member, wage earner and community leader, [and] members develop skills for life," according to its website. The contest had categories including Fashion Design, Quilting, Sewing for Service, Applied Technology (computers), Focus on Children, and Poster (poster creation).
The competition allowed students interested in fashion, computers, and other fields to show off their knowledge and talents.
Also included within the scope of the FCCLA competition is the Early Childhood Education program. This program, according to an information packet given out, "is a special new program to Union City and the state. We are the first to offer a high school student the opportunity to earn the nationally recognized CDA (Child Development Associate) credential and college credit upon graduation from high school. This four-year program is comprised of three courses, one five-credit course per year and one 15-credit course with a school-to-work component at the senior level. Students in the third level have the opportunity to work hours after school and earn a wage paid by the Union City Board of Education."
While the competition could strike some as a pleasant diversion from the rigors of every day high school life, the eight students feted last week appeared to be taking it all quite seriously.
Said teacher Kathleen Morath, who handled the Applied Technology and Poster sections of the competition, "Above all else, the student has to be committed. They have to produce. Students in this program are students that can commit and produce."
Interestingly, according to Morath, the students involved with the program wound up getting along very well with students from their "rival" Union City high school. High school rivalries can be pretty intense. Said Morath, "The students actually loved to see what the other students were doing. They've built a real camaraderie with the other schools."
Fashion and children's education
Four of the students present at the ceremony last week won for their fashion creations, which they wore. The creations looked as if bought of a rack at any store in the mall, a testament to the quality of the workmanship and the creativity involved in the projects.
The fashion students, according to Emerson High School fashion teacher Sandra Nasta, were helped along by a partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. According to Nasta, representatives from FIT visit Union City high schools, and students from Union City visit FIT. This gives the students a real feel of what the future may hold, should they choose to continue on.
Said Nasta, "You can't tell what the future holds, but regardless of what they choose to do in the future, these students, through these programs, have a real feeling of what it's like and what it takes to make it in the work world."
Two students who garnered first place in their respective competitions commented on the positive aspects of the FCCLA programs.
Jessica Vazquez and Miosotiz Luna created a poster in the "Focus on Children" category. Vazquez said, "I am happy and glad that I won first place, but I am also glad that I could do something that helps the kids." Vazquez mentioned that, while she is not 100 percent sure which career direction she will go in, one thing she is sure of is that it will revolve around children. "I want to go into family law, maybe," said Vazquez.
Mayra Amaya, who won in the Applied Technology category, created a computer program that is meant to teach young children about the seasons. Said Amaya during the ceremony, "I provided the information and made the program because I noticed that many children were having trouble telling the seasons apart. I want them to comprehend and also enjoy what they are reading. "
Amaya echoed Vazquez' commitment to children in an interview after the ceremony, "I found the project really fun and I definitely want to work with kids in the future," she said.
The four fashion students present, Yanci Guiterrez, Stacey Baez, Jessica Llaverias and Ketherine Fuentes, all agreed that fashion is something that they want to be involved in.
So while many students concern themselves with the more mundane aspects of high school and look ahead to the weekend, these students have at least one eye locked firmly on the not-too-distant future.
Said Kathleen Morath, "The FCCLA forces you to be a leader because, very simply, you have to get the work done. Anyone that just sits in a chair is not going to make it in this program."
Students who won first place awards will go to the national competition in May in Philadelphia.