This is competition season for teachers and students in the career and technical programs of Wayne County Public Schools.
Two schools have recently earned state recognitions and are gearing up for the national events, said Beverly Boltinhouse, acting director of career and technical education for the district.
The DECA program at Charles B. Aycock High School had a first place finish in the state "Learn and Earn" category, but could also take another qualifying team to the national event April 25-30 in Anaheim, California.
At the state conference of TSA -- Technology Students Association -- Norwayne Middle School received three first place awards, including being named the state chapter of the year, with six other finishes. Adviser Paul Casey will be taking 13 students to the national contest in Orlando, Florida, in late June.
The district has a history of grooming students for local competitions and carrying them through the regional, state and even national levels.
Mrs. Boltinhouse worked with TSA when she taught at Eastern Wayne Middle School and with FBLA, or Future Business Leaders of America, during her years teaching at Spring Creek High School. She has taken students to state and national events.
Participating in competitions takes a lot of time and there isn't necessarily financial reward attached to it, she said, or to compensate the teachers for their time.
"They're going beyond the classroom because all of the clubs are tied to a specific career cluster," she said. "Your HOSA (Health Occupations club) events are tied to different classes but there's not enough time in the classroom to get the content and be proficient for the final exam and do all these things."
But there are benefits for the students, from the skills developed to the recognition.
Skills USA is a good example, she said of the state event coming up April 26-28 in Greensboro. It features competitions in the various trades -- bricklaying, firefighting, electrical, construction, masonry and automotive.
"Why would they go to Skills USA? They won the carpentry event at the fair so they're the best in Wayne County. But let's see how (they) compare.
"And for the most part it's ones who want a career in that field. They can put it on a scholarship application. They're exposed to networking."
There is no requirement to compete and the effort is definitely for the more motivated students, Mrs. Boltinhouse said.
"They see the big picture earlier," she said. "They can put it on a scholarship application."
For the DECA program, which prepares leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management, it is not just a club but part of the classroom, said Tammy Vail, CBA DECA adviser.
She has been leading the program since she began her career, in 1993.
"One of the really cool things about DECA is it's co-curricular -- the things that they're doing in the club, the presentation and the competition are also the same things we're doing in the classrooms so they go right along with the objectives I'm teaching," she said.
This marks the 10-year anniversary of CBA students launching a T-shirt business, which has included the design, marketing and fundraising effort. It has paid off in several ways, from funding their registration and travel to contests to winning first place at the recent state DECA conference in the category of design presentation.
"This is the fifth time I have taken kids to California," Mrs. Vail said of the upcoming national event. "But I have taken kids all over the U.S."
This year, her school also produced a state officer.
"Leah Campbell, an 11th-grader, is N.C. DECA coastal region vice president. It's the fourth time I've run a student for the state office and the first time to have one," she said. "I don't know if it's the first time for CBA but it's the first time for Ms. Vail."
Paul Casey, TSA adviser at Norwayne, has been to nationals five of his eight years at the school.
When he started there, his former teacher, John Vause, had just retired but continued on as a volunteer training children for the events.
"That first year we won state chapter of the year and I felt like I helped but that was really Mr. Vause's," he said.
There were a couple years the school did not compete but then resumed and have been going ever since.
"This year is the first year we've won state chapter of the year since that very first so things have kind of come full circle for us, or for me," Casey said.
He took 19 students to the recent state conference, he said, receiving two other first place awards -- Jr. Solar Sprint, for building a solar car; and the Construction Challenge, which entailed building a handicap accessible picnic table, later donated to Edgewood Community Developmental School.
He credits his co-adviser, language arts teacher Darlene Smith, with spending "countless hours" working with the students two days a week and donating time to support students interested in the pursuit.
"It builds confidence. Some come in sixth grade, very shy. It's like watching a flower blossom, it's just incredible," Casey said. "Public speaking, they network with older kids across the state and the country. They grow in so many directions it's just amazing."
The process can be exhausting, and Casey admits there has been more than one occasion when he has been tempted to take a break.
"I've told my wife before and I've even told the kids and the parents, we're going to try to make this year the last year and maybe take a couple years off," he said. "But then a parent or someone will say, 'No, I'll help you, I'll help you next year. Don't you worry about it. We're going to do it' and I'm like, 'I just don't know if I can do it another year.'
"Of course we get to the competitions and you start hearing them say little Norwayne, you know. We're the little school out in the middle of nowhere in Wayne County and when you hear that name (called out) over and over again and that sense of pride and you know how raw these kids were when they first came in. And the other thing is, just looking down the row and seeing their faces light up when their name is called to go up on the stage. I can't get away from it. It's impossible."