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Cranberry Middle School Students Compile Stellar Finishes at SkillsUSA Championships 

Those representing Cranberry Middle School at the 2024 SkillsUSA National Championships include from left-to-right: Macie Turner, Emma Broadway, Josie Hurtado, Amy Heaton, Eliza Ledford, Lila Holtsclaw, Hailey Jo Triplett, Arionna McGirt, SkillsUSA Chapter Advisor and Career Technical Education (CTE) Instructor Mason Morris, Tenley Hodges, Emma Thomas, Lucy Turner, Daisy Lyerly, Darby Evaul, Hudson Manis, Hayden Cordell, Brandon Ashley, Deacon Holtsclaw, Jose Velazquez, Saunders Stephenson, and Noah Earnhardt.

By Tim Gardner

Students at Cranberry School in Avery County—formerly at the high school and currently at the middle school–have long been noted for achieving much success in varied endeavors. One of the most recent came at the 2024 National Skills USA Championships, which highlights the achievements and downright prowess of career and technical education (CTE) students. CTE refers to courses and programs designed to prepare students for careers in current or emerging professions. CTE provides students with opportunities to explore a career theme of interest while learning a set of technical and employability skills that integrate into or complement their academic studies.

The SkillsUSA Championships is the premier showcase of America’s most highly-skilled CTE students. It’s also one of the largest hands-on workforce development events in the world. The SkillsUSA Championships program lists its philosophy and mission as to reward students for excellence, to involve industry in directly evaluating student performance, and to keep classroom training relevant to employers’ needs. The program assesses and recognizes CTE students by testing their skills against standards for entry-level positions in the skilled trades through authentic demonstrations. Students are evaluated by expert representatives of business, industry, and organized labor. 

Mason Morris, Cranberry Middle School Career and Technical Education (CTE) Instructor and SkillsUSA Chapter Advisor.

In conjunction with National SkillsUSA’s National Leadership and Skills Conference, The SkillsUSA Championships is held every June at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia, which covers more than 1.79 million square feet of floor space, a whopping equivalent of 31 football fields. The Georgia World Congress Center encompasses various other facilities on its 90 total acres, including Centennial Olympic Park, Signia by Hilton Atlanta Hotel, Mercedez-Benz Stadium, home of the National Football League’s (NFL) Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Atlanta United, the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, and State Farm Arena, home of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Atlanta Hawks.

The SkillsUSA Championships is the national culmination of a year-long process that begins in local SkillsUSA Chapters across the country. Local winners advance to district or regional competitions, testing their skills against competitors from other schools. Those winners then advance to state competitions each spring, and state gold medalists earn the right to compete nationally at the SkillsUSA Championships. Along with gold, silver, and bronze medallions, competitors may earn scholarships, tools of the trade, and even job offers right off the competition floor. They also earn the confidence that can only be achieved when you know you’re among the best of the best in what you do.

This awe-inspiring event featured more than 6,000 state champions from across the United States competing head-to-head in those skilled and leadership competitions.Thousands of outstanding CTE students compete in 115 trade, technical, and leadership competitions, which are created, overseen, and judged by nearly 2,000 industry volunteers.  Each event judge is committed to building the next generation of skilled professionals, career-ready leaders, and responsible community members on which America’s future depends.

Cranberry Middle had twenty students earn the right to compete in the 2024 National SkillsUSA Championships held June 25-28, in which they also excelled.

From left-to-right: Emma Broadway, Daisy Lyerly, Eliza Ledford, Amy Heaton, Darby Evaul, Josie Hurtado, and Tenley Hodges finished in fourth place in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. 

They competed in six events, winning one championship gold medal, three championship runner-up (second place) silver medals, and compiling two fourth-place finishes. Those students and categories included:

*Lacey Ray Manis, Saunders Stephenson, and Macie Turner won the Gold Medal for Outstanding Chapter.

*Hailey Jo Triplett, Lila Holtsclaw, and Arionna McGirt – won the second-place Silver Medal for Chapter Display.

*Hayden Cordell, Deacon Holtsclaw, and Hudson Manis- won the second-place Silver Medal for American Spirit.

*Brandon Ashley, Emma Thomas, and Jose Velazquez won the second-place Silver Medal for Community Service.

*Noah Earnhardt finished in fourth place for Extemporaneous Speaking.

*Emma Broadway, Daisy Lyerly, Eliza Ledford, Amy Heaton, Darby Evaul, Josie Hurtado, and Tenley Hodges finished fourth in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. 

Six more Cranberry Middle School students also competed in the North Carolina SkillsUSA Regionals and State of North Carolina competitions, while three more of its students were also involved in Skills USA this year. 

Those other nine students includedKadence Russell, Novalee Hoilman, Tatum Cooke, Roan Singleton, Jackson Zazenski, Shekinah Jay, Brook Sparks, Mason Taylor, and Elijah McPhail.

For the past seven years, Mason Morris taught at Cranberry Middle School. He was an eighth-grade mathematics (math) instructor for the first four years.  Then, for the past three years, he has been the Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher and advisor of the school’s SkillsUSA Chapter. He accompanied the Cranberry Middle students to all regional, state, and national SkillsUSA events.

Morris, who will be moving from Cranberry Middle to Avery County High School as a math teacher for the 2024-2025 academic year, further explained about the SkillsUSA competitions and its most important benefits for students involved in the program with the following comments he gave High Country Press: “Middle School competitions are based on leadership qualities. Our students learned about work trades while preparing for their competition, but every competition in which these students participated, had an interview portion.  There was prep work at school, but in the end, it came down to their public speaking skills and how to communicate their hard work, and their experiences during the competitions.

“I have witnessed SkillsUSA change the lives of students for the better, as they are more outgoing, and have more confidence in themselves than when they started. As an advisor, I have made positive relationships with these students that will be with me forever. Winning is important and is what we strive for. But that has not been my main goal as the advisor.  The outcome that I seek each year has been to give students great experiences such as competing, traveling, making new friends from different states, budgeting their money, being challenged, having success, and feeling the sensation of winning, but also how to handle not always winning or coming in firstplace. All of these experiences are valuable for students’individual growth. Certainly, I wanted them all to win championships, but they all are winners or Gold Medalists to me because of the wonderful and educational experiences they had.”

Morris also offered these additional remarks about Cranberry Middle School’s SkillsUSA Chapter’s growth and its benefits to the community and additional ones to students who participate in it: “I have been blessed to be the advisor of the SkillsUSA chapter at Cranberry Middle School. Our chapter has grown from 15 to nearly 30 members. This is more than ten percent of Cranberry Middle’s student population engaged in SkillsUSA. 

“During the past three years, we have not only grown in numbers but also in our outreach to the community. We have sponsored food drives for our local humane society and delivered Christmas and Valentine’s cards to nursing homes and local elementary schools. We have served food at local community nights and breakfast to military veterans. Our students have also built picnic tables for our school. Being a part of SkillsUSA is more than competition, it is a way to be involved with the school and the community. It is also a way to get students engaged with possible career options within the county, the state, and even nationwide.”

Morris added that he developed his passion for CTE from his parents, both of whom taught the subject at the high school level. 

“My parents—Jim and Kim Morris–were CTE Teachers in Moore County, North Carolina at North Moore High School and taught me at an early age to get involved in CTE functions,” Mason Morris said. “I soon found passion in our high school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter.  My advisors there–Helen Maness and Mary McMillan–opened the world of Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) to me and I was hooked on them. I knew that I would eventually get to share those same experiences with my students and show them how CTSOs can change lives for the better, for which I’m especially thankful for the opportunity.”

Morris expressed appreciation to others for the success of Cranberry Middle’s CTE program and its students’ showings at SkillsUSA competitions.

“We couldn’t have accomplished all that we have without the support of our Principal, Dr. Jamie Johnson, the support of the faculty and staff at Cranberry Middle School, the parents of our CTE students, and all of our sponsors who supported us this year and past years for our SkillsUSA competitive events,” Morris stated.

Those concerned about the future of the skilled trades nationwide should consider the SkillsUSA Championships, which helps provide evidence that it’s in good shape. 

And those who may be concerned in Avery County about the future of skilled trades workers being produced there should think of these 29 Cranberry Middle School students:  Lacey Ray Manis, Saunders Stephenson, Macie Turner, Hailey Jo Triplett, Lila Holtsclaw, Arionna McGirt, Hayden Cordell, Deacon Holtsclaw, Hudson Manis, Brandon Ashley, Emma Thomas, Jose Velazquez, Noah Earnhardt, Emma Broadway, Daisy Lyerly, Eliza Ledford, Amy Heaton, Darby Evaul, Josie Hurtado, Tenley Hodges, Kadence Russell, Novalee Hoilman, Tatum Cooke, Roan Singleton, Jackson Zazenski, Shekinah Jay, Brook Sparks, Mason Taylor, and Elijah McPhail. They have supplied proof that it’s in promising and zenith-skilled hands!