NEW PORT RICHEY — School is out for the summer — but not for everyone.
While many students are off enjoying some lounging time, Dominic Anger and Scott Schwirian have been making the weekday trek to Marchman Technical Education Center. They've even put in extra hours on Sundays, studying blueprints and wiring circuit breaker boxes, light fixtures, door chimes, computers and telephones in plywood wall mock-ups in Don Blake's electrician classroom.
Each day the aspiring electricians faced another blueprint and a blank slate to perfect a series of skills they'll have to complete in six hours this week for a panel of experienced judges in Kansas City, Mo., at the 46th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. The competition kicked off Sunday and runs through Friday.
Formerly known as VICA, SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization that promotes partnerships between students, teachers and industry to help develop a skilled work force. After placing second in a regional SkillsUSA competition and first in state in their divisions, Anger and Schwirian earned the right to represent the state of Florida.
Technically Blake should be off for the summer, too, but he's a taskmaster who's willing to put his students through a series of dry runs, especially if there's the chance to "bring back the gold."
That, after all, this is how they got this far.
"I tell them it's like the playoffs in sports," said Blake, 57. "Two teams are still playing and everyone else is sitting at home watching it on TV. And while other kids are sleeping in, their school year isn't done."
It's part of a method and a work ethic that has brought good success to the small, local school. This will be the seventh time in 10 years and the sixth year in a row that Blake's students will represent Florida at nationals. Not an easy task, said Marchman principal Sheila Bryan, noting that Marchman students are typically the underdogs. They often compete against students from post-secondary schools that are better funded and licensed electricians who are already working in the field.
"That can be intimidating," Blake said. "The other schools have better equipment — like roll-away tool boxes and we have this makeshift thing going on. Dominic is borrowing my tools."
But sometimes, the underdog wins — particularly when it has gone that extra mile.
"It's worth it," said Anger, 16. "It's an honor to go to nationals — an honor to be representing Marchman and the state of Florida.
"This is a very big deal," Blake said. "The convention center where the competition is, is a quarter mile long. There's people competing in jet mechanics. They're doing body work, plumbing, masonry, culinary arts and nursing. It's an amazing thing."
It's also a little nerve-racking, said Schwirian, 25. "But it's exciting, too."
And it could help down the road, when it comes time to look for a job.
Schwirian and Anger plan to enter the trade. After completing the program, they should be able to make about $10 to $10.50 an hour in the local area. If they continue their education through an apprentice program and get their journeyman's license (the license makes them qualified to run jobs), both could command about $20 in the local area — more if they work out of state and join a union.
They will definitely be employable, Blake said, with a nod to the wiring they worked on last week during one of their final dry runs.
"Look at that," he said. "It's artwork."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869-6251.