For some high school students, Thursday's classes ranged from floriculture to driving a forklift and learning about robotics.
About 70 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District high school students from Skyview, Soldotna, Kenai Central and Homer high schools participated in the 20th annual Kenai Peninsula Career and Technical Student Organizations Conference on Thursday at Skyview and SoHi. The conference was both a competition and a place for students to gain knowledge about a plethora of real life hands-on trades. The conference is funded by a Youth First grant from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Community members and faculty members acted as judges for the competitions.
"It's just fun to watch the kids do this stuff," KCHS shop teacher Mike Boyle said. "And watch them do it and be excited about it. They're having fun and they're working and they're doing school -- that's always a plus."
Boyle was one of the judges for the construction competition where students were tasked with building a door frame with a window in it. It was just one of the many competitions going on between the two schools. Some of the competitions included welding, drafting, floriculture, culinary arts, employability skills, fork lift, skid steer, trailer back-up and rigging/flagging, among others.
Homer senior Heath Johnson has participated in the conference all four years of his high school career. This year, he competed in construction and trailer back-up.
"It's fun, you learn a lot during it and that's the best thing," he said. "It's fun competing and everything, but the learning experience is the best part of it -- it prepares you."
Skyview junior Mary Hauptman thought she would be well-prepared for the trailer back-up as she has driven horse trailers before, but she was not able to maneuver SoHi teacher Doug Gordon's truck in the course in the 10 minutes allowed.
"It was frustrating because I said to myself, 'I can do this,'" Hauptman said. "But it's different when there's cones set up and you're judged on how many times you shift and how long you take."
Even though she did not perform as she thought she would, she said her experience of the conference was a good one.
"It's been a blast," she said. "I get to skip class, eat doughnuts...and learn lots of cool things that I've never tried before."
Hauptman said the conference gave her a look at what skills she might need for the future.
"I think it's just lessons in life, things that you'll do every day -- which is pretty cool," she said. "I wish we could do this every day for class, just go out and do real life things. It teaches you a lot more than just opening a book."
Students that participate in the local competitions have the option of competing at the state level in Anchorage next month. One of those students is Homer senior Brendan Rider, 19, who is planning on competing in the small engines competition -- one of the few that was not offered at the Peninsula conference.
"I've always worked on snowmachines and stuff, I think I can do pretty good," Rider said.
Rider also competed in the construction competition on Thursday.
"It's been fun, I learned a little bit, I learned how to build a door frame," he said. "I think everyone should do this for good experience -- everyone should come up with a trade because you can make a lot of money in it."
Bill Carlson, who teaches automotive at Skyview and welding at SoHi, was one of the judges for the fork lift competition. Competitors were tasked with moving a pallet with a bucket of water on it while trying not to spill the water as the fork lift had to be maneuvered backwards and then forward while going over a bump in the snow.
"It's just exposure, giving students a taste in a safe environment," Carlson said. "We cover safety and correct operation."
Carlson said most jobs require machinery operators to be 18-years-old, so the conference is a good place for students to try different things.
"As long as it's a training situation, it gives them an opportunity they might not get otherwise," Carlson said.
When KCHS student Dustin Everitt competed in the fork lift, it was the first time he had operated one.
"It was actually pretty fun, it's a lot easier than I thought it was going to be," the 16-year-old said.
Everitt said the conference was a good way for students to get a head start in different fields.
"In welding, you learn a lot about what the code is on it and just helps you so when you go back to the classroom you can practice getting up to code," he said.
Loretta Knudson-Spaulding is the career guidance liaison for the district and one of the organizers of CTSO. She said one of the goals of the conference is a good opportunity for students to learn about high-paying careers that are available in the state.
"My goal is to keep the best and the brightest in the state of Alaska," she said. "We have an amazing resource here for our youth and our students -- for them to get good jobs and stay in this community and raise their children, for me, it would be the best thing that could happen."
Everitt said more students should participate each year.
"I think a lot of people should do it -- all it can do is benefit you," he said.
Logan Tuttle can be reached at email@example.com.