Hays High senior Trent Hawkins checked every corner and hiding place of a room with his flashlight.
A building search team, comprised of Hays High students, swept the room, just as they had learned in their criminal justice courses.
The exercise was one of several competitions that made up the USA Skills Competition in Waco, of which Hawkins and 13 other students attended last weekend. The competition provides students all over Central Texas a chance to apply the skills gained from Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.
Marco Pizana, Hays High criminal justice instructor, said students from welding, culinary arts, auto mechanics and many other programs attended the competition.
He said the competitions give students a way to truly test what they learn in the classroom.
“We’ve all heard kids ask ‘what’s the point in learning algebra, what’s the point of learning geometry,’” Pizana said. “The point is to apply what you are learning to your future endeavors.”
Hays High’s criminal justice team, which is comprised of Hawkins and one other student, competed in a mock federal traffic stop, fingerprinting and crime scene investigation exercise. The students had to walk through the steps just like a professional in the field.
Hawkins said he had to rely on what he learned in the classroom during each event.
“I didn’t know how to paint a room and check blind corners,” Hawkins said. “I also learned how to address the judges and be professional, so I’ve got some of my pride back.”
The student’s success stories – and failures – indirectly spur others to excel in the class so they can win at the next competition, Pizana said.
He said one team missed a suspect in the building search because they forgot to use their flashlights. It was a technique they discussed in class.
“When they talk with other students, they say, ‘this is what they expect at competition,’” Pizana said. “This is the way we need to do it in class to do it the right way.”
Even with the small setback, 10 out of 14 students placed in various events. According to Pizana, the students’ excitement regularly recruits others to join the program or competition.
“They either want to be part of law enforcement or a federal agent. I have some who are wanting to be lawyers,” Pizana said. “Their main thing is [whether] this is the career they want to choose.”
The USA Skills competitions are typically held on a college campus. While students are competing, the universities encourage them to look into their programs and avenues for higher education.
Competitors in criminal justice events are required to present a resume. They also receive criticism to help propel their careers.
“Now that they’ve gone to this competition and are taking these classes they can add it on to their resume,” Pizana said. “So when they actually go to get a job they’ll be prepared.”
Pizana said competitions for all CTE programs are essential for students to try out a career.
Whether a student has family in law enforcement, like Hawkins, or trying out the idea for the first time, competitions can provide a true sense of their chosen career.
“It’s totally different, and in a way, better than what is on TV,” Hawkins said. “Competitions really do give you an edge and teaches you to have pride in what you do.”