KHS sends 24 students to state for SkillsUSA


More than 20 Kilgore ISD students have advanced to the state level in the SkillsUSA competition with many participating for the first time.

In the health knowledge bowl, the two teams representing District 5 at the state level are Kilgore High School students.

“I just think it’s cool that we’re going against our other team in state because it’s kind of a friendly competition, but we’re kind of talking some smack about it too,” Mackenna Watkins said, a member of the silver state qualifying sophomore health knowledge bowl team, said.

The same can be said for the game design teams with both state-bound groups coming from KHS.

Out of 28 students who competed in the District 5 Leadership and Skills Conference in Waco Feb. 9-10, a total of 24 students are advancing on to the state level in Corpus Christi.

For the juniors on the gold-winning health knowledge bowl team, some of the material included topics they had not discussed since freshman year, but a little refresher brought that information back for the competition.

“It’s neat to see how much they do retain and remember from their freshman year and then asking each other questions because the younger ones were asking about some things that they haven’t covered in class yet,” health science teamer Cheyenne Kirkpatrick said, adding no one knew what to expect because none of them had ever participated in SkillsUSA.

In the health knowledge bowl, the moderator read a question to the teams and each team had 35 seconds from the end of the question to answer correctly.

Hailee Jo Lewis and Shelby Thompson, both members of the gold-winning junior team, said it was stressful because they did not know what to expect in their first trip to the competition in Waco.

“It’s really stressful when you second-guess yourself,” Thompson said.

Carlos Muniz not only not only won gold with his bowl team, but also advanced with top marks in the medical terminology competition.

“It was fun. It really showed us how much we know and how much we need to know to prepare,” he said.

The sophomore health knowledge bowl team advanced to state after earning a second-place finish. When Kirkpatrick suggested the sophomores go to the competition, she just wanted them to have the experience so they could be more prepared next year.

“For them to place second and make it, it really kind of makes me feel better about what we’re doing here,” she said.

Kirkpatrick applauded her students, saying they did their own research on the competition and had flashcards, studying with each other before the competition and then transitioned into doing their homework while in Waco.

“We really have a good group, so to pick our cream of the crop and go down there and just dominate… The older ones were excited for the younger ones. They were just, as a group, all excited they’re all going to state.”

The students are planning to continue their success in April in Corpus Christi at state to then advance to nationals in Kentucky.

“To have that much success, it’s almost hard to put into words how proud and excited. They’re already talking about nationals,” Kirkpatrick said. “If we go our very first time ever to state and qualify for nationals, I’ll really be over the moon. They have really high expectations of themselves, as well as I know what they’re capable of and it’s neat to see them, and even the ones that didn’t qualify for state, they’re excited to go back again next year.

“As far as health science goes, this was probably my biggest (example of) starting to see what we’re doing here and what the kids are learning and how it’s paying off. First of many fun stories I’ll get to tell.”

KHS game design students returned to Waco with some rookie and some veteran members – both with the only two virtual reality games in the competition.

Both teams will be using the motion capture suits, purchased through KISD Education Foundation grants, to animate their characters.

“Believe it or not, the easiest part will be animating the characters, and it’s supposed to be the hard part, but thanks to [former game design teacher Benjamin] Wood, we have animation suits we can just put on,” Hunter Truitt, a member of the gold-winning team, said. “However we use the suit, the suit will copy and paste the movement onto the Maya character, who just copies the movement that you made.”

The students’ access to technology needed to produce professional-level games, shows them that they have the support of the district and the teachers and administrators believe in them and their abilities, Rodney Bodine said.

“I want them to be jealous,” silver-winning team leader Kevin Kruger said, adding game design is what he wants to do for a career.

“It feels great,” Truitt said about returning to the state level SkillsUSA. “It’s something to put on an application too, that’s for sure. I’ve always enjoyed Skills. Last year when I made it to state, I was so excited. I was all pumped up, but then I lost, but it didn’t really hurt me. I was like, ‘Ok, well I’ll come back next year. If I can make it to state once, I can make it again.’”

Now, with a new team and with the knowledge of the mistakes they made last year, Truitt has his goals set on nationals in Kentucky.

“That’s what I’m hoping for… I’ll be satisfied if I get nationals,” he said. If any KHS students advance to the nationals and then to the international competition, the competition will take them to Russia.

This also was the first time for game design and animation teacher Nick Moore, who took over the post from Wood in November, to attend SkillsUSA also.

“I think that it’s really great that opportunities exist for CTE in a competition environment that didn’t exist before,” he said of the competition. “There’s a very broad range of competitions going there all at once, and a lot of students from a lot of different backgrounds, so a lot of opportunities for a lot of different areas.”

Changes in technology and the industry have propelled game design into a legitimate career choice, he said, acknowledging the responsibility he has of being able to influence his students in something they could turn into a career.

Moore commended the students’ commitment and dedication to their projects as many work on their projects in his room before and after school and on the weekends in some cases. They live up to the higher expectations he has of them.

“It was a very rewarding experience to see all their hard work pay off, and it sort of highlights one of the reasons I wanted to be a teacher,” he said about seeing his students’ successes.

Moore said he was just as excited as the students to advance to the state level, saying he was jumping and cheering at the back of the room during the awards ceremony.

The KHS students will compete in the state competition in Corpus Christi April 5-8. If any KHS students qualify for the national competition, then that will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, June 25-29.