A New School Year and New Opportunities for Highschoolers

With the 2017-18 school year beginning, this is the time for incoming freshmen to take a hard look at what SkillsUSA has to offer.

Sometimes, folks just don’t seem to grasp SkillsUSA. It’s like being a Roblan for 20 years and still not grasping the difference between Pioneer Museum and Pioneer Day Committee.

SkillsUSA began in 1965 in Nashville. It started in California in 1967; in Paso, it began in 2002 as a Chapter of SkillsUSA-Calif.

Randy Canaday

Randy Canaday

Electrical Contractor, Randy Canaday, came to Paso with his family in 1957 and grew up here. He was a good friend of then-principal of Paso Robles High School, Greig Walch in ’01. Greig called Randy in 2002 and told his old classmate, “You’ve been part of the football coaching staff since ’91; it’s time to change. You are now the new head of the fledgling group, Construction Technology. I want Paso students to have a new opportunity to find careers and become successful and contributing members of society after graduation. Go figure this out!”

The debate will continue to rage on for a thousand years as to whether every student should have a college degree but there is no debate that our pueblo of El Paso de Robles always needs people who can do “day-to-day everythings.”

Randy told Grieg, “I’ll give you 10 years.” That was 16 years ago.

Today, Randy reports to current PRHS principal, Eric Martinez, with an equally solid line to Jennifer Gaviola, Director of Curriculum 6-12 grades.

Randy was indeed a skilled tradesman. Paso always has needed welders and electricians — and it seems we still don’t have enough to satisfy the demand — so he started there. In the first year, there were six students, then 20 students in the second. More students, more awareness, more educators, more contests, more awards and more recognition.

SKillsUSA--electricalPaso High is the largest participant in the Central Coast area. The program is broken up into “8 Pathways” and all the skills fall into one of those pathways. construction trades, automotive, journalism, computer technology — including hardware, software, training, networking and programming, audio-video, health, preschool education, and culinary arts are the dominant categories. Additionally, public speaking and robotics fits into a pathway.

Students usually begin their career in SkillsUSA as a freshman. Out of the 24 distinct classes a student must pass to graduate, three “pathway” sectors qualify. The sophomore year finds students grappling more with what I’d call the “rigors of doing what it takes to get a degree,” so they drop off. By their junior and senior years, they come roaring back – often with the feverish pace of a zealot. There are some 350 students registered in Paso’s SkillsUSA and about 150 of them are preparing to compete in the contests. The mix in both statistics is about 50:50 boys and girls. To support the academic side of SkillsUSA pathways, there are thirteen educators.

As the students progress through their pathway, competition is a necessity. Because Paso is so dominant, PRHS holds the regional contests here on the first Saturday of Feb.

Paso competes in 32 areas with individual or team winners virtually every year. Winners go to Ontario for statewide competition on April,19. Then comes the grand-mother of them all — the “Finals Event” — held in Louisville, KY during the third week of June. Randy says their fairground pavilion can hold a horseshoe shape event that is 1 mile long!

Six thousand students compete in their respective fields and each competitive skill starts from scratch. Each speech, cabinet, and each plumbing maze is new – and so it goes. An exception to this is artistic welding, where a sculpted piece is carried from competition to competition.

It all happens at Paso High where all the shops and classrooms are located, and is paid for by a broad base. For starters, there are both state and federal grants. Locally, there are 44 businesses that contribute about $60K a year to keep the program alive. Private donations float in, and are of course encouraged.

Lastly, part of a good education process is fundraising. Students in the program all have to raise some money themselves. Not a lot, but enough to teach them the basics of how to do it. It’s a mild but important version of “pay to play.”

Randy has now retired from being an electrical contractor but he is full-time employed as a super-hero in the school system to help prepare young men and women find a suitable path after graduation. Oh, lest I forget, there is a “Mrs. Randy” who supports him wholeheartedly as well as being gramma to nine young grandchildren.

It’s been 50 years since I was in Louisville but I think I’d like to plan a trip there next June and see some Paso High students there. Go ‘Cats!

Need more info? Contact Randy at 805-674-4170.