ACT scores at Tullahoma High School aren’t the only thing the Wildcats have to celebrate.

At a recent state conference in Chattanooga, several Career Technical Education (CTE) students took home some hardware from their SkillsUSA competitions.

According to CTE teachers Keith Gilliam and Randy Edwards, several students competed with more than 2,400 other high school students in various trade skills at the beginning of the month.

This was also the first time that Edwards had a student take home top honors, with Kayla Tenison taking a first-place finish in architectural drafting.

“It’s really awesome,” Edwards said, “because this is the first time in my 17 years that I’ve had a person win first. I’ve had people place in the number two and number three, but I’ve never had a first, so it’s real exciting.”

THS Principal Kathy Rose was equally thrilled with the number of students who medaled at the conference, saying it was “great” to see how many students were interested in the CTE program.

“We’re seeing this program grow,” she said, “and we’re seeing more kids get interested as we try to introduce them to more careers that are out there. It’s great to see the enthusiasm; it’s great to see the work ethic and determination that they have, and we’re really proud of them.”

When asked about her win, Kayla said it affirmed her future career plans and gave her a boost in her academic career.

“I really want to be an architect, so this is going to help me,” she said. Kayla said she plans to attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and major in architecture after high school, and having a state win for her architectural skills will help guide her in her classes.

Kayla credited the computer assisted design (CAD) lessons she learned from Edwards as fundamental to her win.

“You have a problem you have to solve in a house, and you have to do different floorplans to correct it,” she said of the test she took at the conference.

Because she was well versed in different floorplans and different details through the CAD program, she said, it enabled her to tackle the test at the conference head on.

“I just had a really good floorplan and good dimensions,” she said of her winning design.

With her state win, Kayla has earned the right to compete in the national conference, which will be held in June in Louisville, Kentucky. She said she was excited to be able to compete on a national level later this year.

Kayla wasn’t the only one to take home a first place win.

Edwards said the trio of Michael Komnick, Landon Turner and Clinton Williams took home the first-place prize in automated manufacturing technology, which was equally “awesome” for him.

All three boys are looking into post-high school careers that will involve some of the skills they used at the competition, according to Edwards.

“CAD and CAM [are] used a lot currently in manufacturing,” Edwards said, so if the boys are looking into manufacturing or engineering careers after high school, what they’ve learned in class will help them “in application.”

Like Rose, Gilliam said he was proud to see so many students interested in the CTE program. He was also enthusiastic to see so many students ready and willing to attend the state conference.

Gilliam added that a change in the rules of the SkillsUSA competition has also allowed more students to compete and show off what they’ve learned in class.

“We could only take one student,” Gilliam said of the previous rule. “Now we can take four or five in each class. That opens it up for more kids to be involved and not disappointed because they didn’t get chosen to compete.”

By allowing more students to compete and possibly place, Gilliam said, an added benefit is word-of-mouth publicity.

“What we’re trying to do is get more interest by these kids talking to other kids [and] bringing groups down and letting them see what we do,” he said.

That strategy has paid off, Gilliam said, and he’s seen an increase in the number of “real good students” joining the various CTE programs.

In fact, Gilliam said, just about every CTE class is “maxed out,” which speaks to the popularity of the programs.

Per state law, CTE classes are only allowed to have so many students in them before another class and/or instructor must be added to accommodate increased interest.

The high school is currently in the process of hiring a new criminal justice teacher due to the popularity of the classes taught by Jason Kennedy.

Gilliam said the interest is “a good thing,” as it means “there is interest in trades and jobs and drafting and mechanics.”

“I’ll always put kids to work in industry,” he said. “They do apprentice programs, we go to TCAT [and] we go to the trade schools. Our numbers have increased a lot for traders, and it’s really been exciting to see now, at my age, all the people that are working in the industry.”

For more information on the CTE programs at the high school, visit ths.tcsedu.net.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.