FLEMINGTON, NJ – Students in Hunterdon County Polytech Career and Technical High School’s Early Childhood Education Program and Teacher Academy conquered virtual competition to win medals at this year’s NJ Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) State Leadership Conference. All six of Polytech’s state-level participants qualified to compete at the National Leadership Conference, which also will be held virtually, in July.

Polytech’s FCCLA Chapter also was recognized for excellence in leadership and community service with its second consecutive designation as a Red Rose Chapter. The award is based on a comprehensive application that highlights the chapter’s activities throughout the school year, impact on the community, and student reflections and goals. One of the chapter’s activities involved selling luminaria in partnership with local chapters of the American Cancer Society to raise awareness and funds.

Among the individuals from Polytech who garnered recognition at the virtual conference was the team of Teacher Academy seniors Catherine Owens and Kate Murray, whose lesson for middle school students on mindfulness won them a first-place gold medal in the Focus on Children event.  

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For the competition, Owens and Murray had to create a display board and prepare and record a 10-minute speech. Prior to school closings as a result of the pandemic, Owens and Murray taught the lesson to students at the Reading-Fleming Intermediate School. The young women set up stations at the school that enabled the middle school students to explore such areas as yoga, journaling and watercolor, among others. Additionally, Owens and Murray presented the class to a group of students with special needs, further demonstrating how the lesson could be adapted and made applicable to a diverse group.

Natalie Guarino, Early Childhood Education and Teacher Academy instructor and advisor to Polytech’s FCCLA Chapter, said that some of the comments the students received from judges included, “There is so much research available on the significance of the topic,” and “This is such a current and hot topic in education.”

Early Childhood Education seniors Francesca Brunetti and Casey Tettemer received a second-place silver medal for their Chapter Service Project Display that demonstrated their partnership with local chapters of the American Cancer Society to raise funds and awareness. Early Childhood Education senior and Chapter President Olivia Melick received a first silver for her Chapter in Review Display titled “Find Your Treasure in FCCLA.” Melick was instrumental in organizing the chapter’s community service and fundraising activities throughout the year. A first bronze went to Early Childhood Education senior Haley Chifla for her Chapter Service Portfolio. Chifla presented on foster care in Hunterdon County. She shared her efforts to organize a presentation by the Division of Child Protection & Permanency to the chapter and create “first night” bags for foster children.

Guarino said her students, after working about three to five months on their projects, initially were unsure if the competition would even happen as schools physically closed and stay at home orders were issued. When they learned the competition would go on virtually, the students had just two weeks to upload 15 photos, a video of a formal speech and several documents to send to her. Then, Guarino uploaded each project to the state file. 

“I am so proud of the students,” Guarino said. “They definitely had to work more independently. They had to take the initiative and be confident enough to do everything on their own and in a new format.”

Guarino also noted that not only did students compete virtually this year, but for the first time, they competed against comprehensive high schools in addition to the other career and technical education schools that had long made up their previous pool of competitors.

All of Polytech’s winners will move on to compete in the virtual 2020 National Leadership Conference of the FCCLA in July. The Conference was to be held in Washington, D.C. this year; it typically includes the competition as well as workshops, specialized training and leadership opportunities for participants. 

“Our students have the skills and the determination to succeed,” said Guarino. “They are dedicated to FCCLA and believe that combining family and career can help develop strong leaders who can make communities better for everyone.”