Students from The Chantilly Academy have once again done themselves and their school proud. Seven of them — five in cosmetology and two in culinary arts — won gold medals in the Skills USA State Championship, April 9 in Roanoke.
All seven now advance to the national championship, June 19-25, in Kansas City, Mo. And based on their performances at states, the sky's the limit.
"They'll be going against state champions from 49 other states, plus Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and possibly the District of Columbia," said cosmetology teacher Wayne White. "And I really think they have an opportunity to be on the podium [receiving more medals]."
Gold medalists in cosmetology were: Shanice Roberts of Centreville High; Bailey Holmes and Jessika Hoang of Robinson Secondary; and Ashley Prytula and Kelly Edwards of Chantilly High. Winning gold in culinary arts were Caroline Dacko of Oakton High and Hana Bignell of Fairfax High.
"We competed against 13 other schools — all district champions," said White. "Most cosmetology programs are two- and three-year programs, and our students were first-year kids competing against them. So for them to win was excellent and showed how hard they worked."
Although only those winning gold medals at state level go on to nationals, Chantilly Academy students also garnered silver and bronze medals during the competition. Because cosmetology students also received medals for their performance on a written test of their technical knowledge, as well as for their demonstrations, Chantilly had two more medals than its number of students competing.
"We took 11 kids and brought home 13 medals," said White. "Three kids got bronze medals and two got silver for the written test. No other cosmetology program got this many medals. We were hysterical by the end of the night."
Winning silver were Leigh-Ana Bordatto, whose base school is South Lakes, and Sarah Han of Robinson Secondary. Winning bronze were Roberts and Edwards, plus Melissa Rodriguez of Robinson.
Roberts and her teammates, Jennifer Steburg of Chantilly and Han of Robinson, also won bronze medals for the club scrapbook they created documenting things their cosmetology class did this year, such as hairstyling shows, talks by guest speakers, fund-raisers and community-service projects.
AND IN culinary arts, Westfield High's Vanessa Bush won silver for her technical knowledge of commercial baking, and Chantilly's Rochelle Stevens won silver in food and beverage service. Woodson's Sarah Monroe received bronze for her technical knowledge of culinary arts, and South Lakes' Jon Tate captured gold in food preparation — but that contest doesn't go on to nationals.
Roberts' gold medal was for her prepared speech, "Champions at Work," in which she related her own experiences as a 17-year-old, single mother of son Davonte, 3, while attending school and working at Life Time Fitness.
The Centreville junior said it's hard work, but she keeps going because of her son. "I was the only one who talked about her own story," she said. "The others talked about other people."
And not only did Roberts — a first-year cosmetology student — come in first, but she beat last year's state champion — who finished 10th in nationals. "I was very, very happy," she said. "I didn't think I'd win because I speak fast and stutter when I get excited. Hopefully, I'll get in the top two or three, or even first place, at nationals."
White said everybody who'd listened to Roberts' speech in class was pulling for her to win. "She truly was our sentimental favorite," he said. "Here's a kid who's as shy as can be. She wanted to sign up for the essay competition and signed up for speech by mistake."
And though she's a single parent, he said, "She doesn't bring that to the table. Most people don't know she's raising a child, and she doesn't complain about it. So when they heard her story, they were like, 'Wow!' And when she won at states, the place went crazy."
Bailey Holmes, 17, and Jessika Hoang, 16, won gold in community service for their joint presentation on their work in Chantilly's Head Start program. And it was the first time the Academy entered this particular event. "We thought [the competition] would be a lot of work, but decided to try anyway," said Hoang. "We feel confident and hope to do well at nationals," added Holmes.
Ashley Prytula and Kelly Edwards also garnered gold for the same project. "Our presentation was earlier in the day, and we were the last competition called for the award," said Prytula. "We had to wait two hours and didn't think we were going to win because we were competing against so many schools."
BUT EXCITEMENT was running high. "The other students from The Chantilly Academy were all in the bleachers, cheering us on and calling our names," said Prytula. "I was nervous, standing up there in the bright light. And then they put the medals around our necks and we were so happy."
She said she and Edwards are "still shocked" that they did so well, but they practiced hard. And since they'll do more activities with the children in the Head Start program between now and June, said Prytula, they'll have more information and photos to add to their presentation so, hopefully, they'll win at nationals.
"It's just awesome to see that these first-year kids put in the time and effort to compete against kids with more experience and did so well," said White of all his medalists. "And this has really gotten the students excited about next year's cosmetology program."
Meanwhile, Caroline Dacko and Hana Bignell, both 17, took home gold for their culinary expertise. In commercial baking, participants had to complete six projects in four hours.
Dacko made a white, pan bread — a yeast dough also be used for rolls and baked in a loaf pan; a blueberry pie; tea cookies (like shortbread and made with a pastry bag); biscuits and puff pastry. She also had to frost a cake — which she loves doing.
"It's fun because we can be creative," she said. "We had to layer the cake and write 'Happy Birthday, Cindy.' And I added three pink roses, rosebuds and vines, plus a shell border."
Dacko said the hardest part was bringing their own utensils and having a small workspace. But she liked the surprise of not knowing beforehand what she was required to make. "It was really a test to see if you knew what you were doing," she said.
She expected to finish in the top five at states, but was still stunned to win the top prize. "It was amazing," she said. "I think I can do really well at nationals — I'm just glad to be going."
In the culinary arts category, Bignell also had to perform several tasks, including cutting onions, potatoes and carrots in particular ways "so the judges can see your skill with consistency in size and appearance and see if you know the different kinds of cuts." She then made a Greek salad with a lemon-parsley vinaigrette.
Next came a sautéed chicken breast with a fines-herbs sauce, plus cooked vegetables and lyonnaise potatoes. She sliced and sautéed the potatoes with onions and attractively arranged them in a circle atop each other on a plate.
Bignell loves making salads, and she said Chef Clay Doubleday, The Chantilly Academy's culinary arts teacher, "taught me how to distinguish myself from the other competitors in salads by varying my presentation. The others had lettuce with everything else piled on top of it. My salad had marinated cucumbers and onions molded with the lettuce into a dome, with olives and feta cheese on top and tomato wedges on the side."
She said she did her best and was hoping for a medal: "I was thrilled — ecstatic. I worked really hard to get it. Doubleday was also pleased and proud of all his students' efforts at the competition.
"I'm really glad that, in Skills USA, these kids have found a place where they can show what they're capable of doing," he said. "They're not the quarterback on the football team, artists or actors. They're just normal kids, and Skills USA gives them a platform where they can shine as individuals. I'm happy they can experience that. Finding an avenue where they can achieve success is a great springboard into their future."