A group of talented Norwalk-La Mirada high school students earned national recognition for their hands-on career expertise in competition with 6,000 peers during the recent SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky.

Norwalk High’s SkillsUSA program was the sole California honoree chosen by the organization for its inaugural Model of Excellence award while student teams from La Mirada High scored gold and bronze medals during group competitions at the June 22-26 event.

SkillsUSA – a partnership of students, teachers and industry partners working to ensure the U.S. continually develops an accomplished workforce – tested expertise in more than 90 career- and technical-education skills, ranging from marketing and human services to welding and culinary arts.

“SkillsUSA nationals brings together the some of the most dedicated and hard-working kids in the USA. Having our students among them is an honor in itself,” said Norwalk-La Mirada Unified Board of Education President Jesse Urquidi, NLMUSD alumnus and former SkillsUSA gold medalist himself. “To bring home the top honors is a tremendous achievement. We are all very proud of them.”

Norwalk High, representing the SkillsUSA Southeast ROP Chapter, earned the Model of Excellence award for a project which highlighted its culinary arts program’s work planning and executing a catering event for NLMUSD’s district-wide college fair. The students planned a menu, and prepared and served food and desserts for 200 college representatives and district VIPs. Students Christina Sanabia and Sierra Viramontez represented the team in Louisville.

“Catering events like these are real-life scenarios that prepare the students for a career in culinary arts,” said Norwalk High culinary arts teacher Tracy Horton, who accompanied her students to Louisville. “Having our program recognized as a national model is wonderful, and tells our students that all of their hard work was worth the effort.”

SkillsUSA Executive Director Tim Lawrence said the Models of Excellence program represents the very best in chapter achievement and community involvement.

“The Southeast ROP-Norwalk High School chapter defines excellence across the board, serving as a model for other chapters to emulate in strengthening their local programs,” Lawrence said.

The Chapter of Excellence award is sponsored by Lowes Home Improvement and is accompanied by the company’s pledge to support a community service project for winning chapters.

La Mirada High students Vanessa Lechuga, Dalia Nute and Alyssa Perez took home the gold medal in the Career Pathways-Human Services category. Facing more than 30 competitors, the team demonstrated its ability to design, produce and give a presentation regarding all aspects of its Super Heroes League project – a community service project that produces and delivers personalized “superhero” capes to children battling serious illnesses to show community support and admiration for their courage.

“My heart was beating out of my chest,” said Lechuga, recalling how it felt to be presented with the gold medal before an audience of 16,000. Lechuga graduated this year from LMHS with plans to pursue a career in teaching.

A second La Mirada team took home bronze in the Career Pathways-Business Management and Technology category. Seniors Stefani Carranco, Brandon Remedios and Valerie Vasquez earned the third-place honor for their presentation on Karing Handz, a community service organization founded by La Mirada
High students to sell welding art. For each piece sold, Karing Handz donates a T-shirt to a special-needs child.

“I’m incredibly proud of all the students,” said LMHS welding teacher Brent Tuttle, who accompanied the LMHS students to Louisville.

LMHS students Omar Andino, Sergio Barajas and Owen Soffa placed 16th in the Career Pathways-Manufacturing category, and Leissa Murillo, Chandler Van Scoy and Ethan Edwards placed among the top 10 in Occupational Health and Safety category. LMHS student Dakota Sun competed in the post-secondary Career Pathways-Welding Sculpture category and Norwalk High student Jesus Chavez competed in the Career Pathways-Automotive Collision Repair category.

All students who competed in the national event earned gold at their state level competitions.

“The Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District students have such a great deal of talent and a lot of heart,” said Superintendent Dr. Hasmik Danielian. “Bringing home national honors is something of which they should be very proud.”

PHOTO CAPTION 1: SkillsUSA Post Secondary President Brooke Johnson, NHS SkillsUSA Advisory Tracy Horton, NHS student Christina Sanabia, Lowes Senior Vice President Troy Dally, NHS student Sierra Viramontez, and SkillsUSA High School President Ahmad Shawwal.

PHOTO CAPTION 2: SkillsUSA national gold medal winners and NHS students Vanessa Lechuga, Dalia Nute and Alyssa Perez.