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Pa. teen has a thing for wildflowers

June 28, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Earlier this month, thousands of high school students from across the country gathered in Kansas City, Mo., for the national SkillsUSA Championships, a series of competitions that is the equivalent of the NCAA Basketball Tournament for career and technology students.

As a junior, Jessica Hawks of Chambersburg emerged from the 2005 competition with a silver medal for her job skills presentation. Having come that close, Hawks said she was eager to return for a shot at the gold.

"Oh, yeah. I was ready to get there this time," said the 18-year-old Chambersburg Area Senior High School graduate and Franklin County Career and Technology Center student. The work paid off when Hawks returned from the competition with the gold medal.

"As a young child, my favorite activity was walking through my neighbor's field and collecting a basket of wildflowers for my mother," Hawks said, reciting some of the speech she gave to a panel of judges in the national finals.

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As Hawk's described it, the job demonstration competition is somewhat like a cooking show on television. Competitors must talk about their job skill while demonstrating it at the same time.

In her case, it was showing and telling how to construct a wildflower basket arrangement during a five- to seven-minute presentation and being judged on her voice, deportment, organization, skills and other factors.

For the presentation, she had three flower baskets in various stages of completion, adding to each before moving on to demonstrate the next phase of the project. In the end, she had an arrangement of alstroemeria, pom-pom mums and mini-carnations mixed with baby's breath and ferns.

The judges were not comparing apples to oranges, according to Hawks, who studied horticulture and landscaping at the career center. The other finalists from Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Tennessee gave presentations on skills ranging from gift wrapping and making Christmas ornaments to rose pruning and how to test for pH levels in aquariums.

On her way to the finals, Hawks, the daughter of Wanda Gearhart of Chambersburg and Ronald Hawks of Fayetteville, Pa., said she had to first win her district competition in Pennsylvania, than statewide honors against more than 30 other students. Hawks faced 32 state champions in the preliminary round of the national championship.

The competitions, spread out over an area the size of 11 football fields in two facilities, were sponsored by various businesses and industries, said Roberta Johnston, the career center's vocational supervisor and SkillsUSA adviser. More than 4,500 students went to Kansas City to test their skills in more than 80 competitions, she said.

It was hard to judge the competition, Hawks said, noting that students were not allowed to watch the other demonstrations in the finals until they had completed their own.

Hawks credited retired teacher Roy Johnston and teacher Dave Perry with helping her prepare for her gold medal performance.

Along with the gold, Hawks took home a $500 scholarship. She plans to work to save money for college and study to become a teacher.

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