E.L. Crossley floristry competitors, from left, Natalie Anderson, Deanna Ramaker, and Mackenna Belding. JANICE SARGEANT

The District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) celebrated the talent of students enrolled in its technological education courses, as well as those in the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) and Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, with its annual Technology Skills Challenge which ran March 1 through 12.

The Voice spoke with DSBN technology consultants Roy Smith and Jill Russell regarding the competition, involving all 17 of DSBN’s secondary schools. The event is in its 23rd year, but this was the first time it was presented and judged virtually, due to the pandemic. Normally, the event is featured on Niagara College’s campuses.

“Events are being evaluated in different ways this year,” said Russell. “Some are being judged via Zoom videoconferencing, and others via electronic file submission. In some categories, entries are judged by teachers in the classroom, and then those files are sent to other professionals.”

There were 21 different challenge categories. Some —hairstyling, precision machining, carpentry, welding, electrical wiring, and culinary arts, for example— were trades-based, while others— video production and photography, graphic design, computer coding, architectural CAD (computer-assisted design), and robotics —were tech-based.

Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded in each category, with winners advancing to provincial competition, which is also being conducted virtually this year, from April 22 to May 7.

Smith said that a number of event partners, such as Rona and the Niagara Industrial Association, donated materials and agreed to serve as judges.

“Many of our competing students are enrolled in our DSBN technology classes, and have completed co-op placements in these areas for extra experience outside the classroom,” said Smith, adding that Niagara College offers $1,000 scholarships for students who are SHSM graduates entering one of their tech programs.

Russell and Smith both underscored the million-dollar investment that the DSBN has made over the past two years in support of skilled-trade programs, which they said has allowed the purchase of industry-standard equipment and software for students to train on, the same equipment that they would be using in the workplace.

“It all helps our students prepare for their future careers,” said Smith, who noted that success in the annual Technology Skills Challenge is closely observed by many employers, who recognize the students’ skills and potential.

For Mackenna Belding of Fonthill, an E.L. Crossley Grade 11 student and floristry event competitor, flowers are a family affair.

“My aunt and uncle used to own a perennial farm, so they always had flowers that I was able to pick, and I’d make arrangements with them. And my dad is a horticulture teacher at E.L. Crossley, so he was an influence. Gardens have just always been part of my life.”

Belding said that she wants to study elementary school concurrent education at university, and has narrowed her choices to Brock, Queen’s, and Nipissing.

Natalie Anderson, in Grade 11 at Crossley, also had an entry in the floristry competition.

“We were judged in part on symmetrical arrangement, so I was trying to think of balance and depth by creating different layers with the flowers and greenery. I worked on creating a focal point and different artistic styles,” she said.

Although she said she has limited gardening experience, Anderson considered the competition a worthwhile endeavour. “Crossley’s horticulture teacher, Mr. Belding, demonstrated some techniques, and I did some online research prior to the competition,” she said.

Anderson is contemplating a combination of visual art and biological sciences for her university studies.

“Combining the artistic visual appeal of flower arrangements, along with working with plants….that’s really exciting for me. It’s kind of a combination of my passions.”