WOOD RIVER JCT. — A team from Chariho Tech has made a triumphant return to Rhode Island after taking the top prize at the national SkillsUSA competition.
Seniors Zachary Jesuino, Kody Gordon and Nathaniel Pepler won the gold medal in the criminal justice competition. The students were accompanied by their instructor, Lt. Robert Wild.
This is the second time in four years that a Chariho team has won a gold medal in criminal justice. Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said the gold medal was a reflection on the high quality of Chariho Tech programs.
“Winning a national gold medal speaks volumes about program quality,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the career and technical programs we offer at the center and at the high school. Our students consistently respond in a positive way to the high expectations we establish for them and the expert instruction they receive from our highly qualified instructors.”
The SkillsUSA championships were held from June 25 to June 28 in Louisville, Kentucky. More than 6,500 students competed in 115 trade, industrial, STEM, health and leadership skill competitions.
“SkillsUSA programs help to establish industry standards for job skills training in the classroom,” states the SkillsUSA press release. “These industry driven events are modeled after the Olympics where the top three individuals/teams receive gold, silver, and bronze medals.”
Gold medal winner Kody Gordon said his team had remained focused throughout three days of intense competition.
On the first day, there were written and observational tests.
“You were shown different images or scenarios for about a minute each and they would go away and then they would ask you questions about what you saw and you’d have to remember and write it down,” Gordon said.
The next day, teams were provided with a crime scene where they collected and photographed evidence and sketched the scene.
“Then, it was 30 minutes in the lab where we processed the evidence,” Gordon said.
On the third day, the competitors had oral interviews with law enforcement officers who asked questions based on resumes the students had submitted earlier. The winners were announced at the closing banquet on June 28.
Wild said preparation was the key to doing well in the national competition.
“You’re looking at 40 to 45 teams we had to compete against across the nation, so we prepared hard and these kids were really focused and motivated,” he said.
The competition was challenging, Gordon said, but he and his teammates had felt confident that they would do well.
“It was tough, but I honestly think we were well prepared due to Lieutenant always making us practice,” he said. “The way he does it, he makes us practice more than what we’re actually going to do at the competition. When we go to the competition, we’re so well prepared that - I don’t want to say it was easy, but we were prepared for it.”
Team member Zachary Jesuino agreed that Wild’s instruction had made a huge difference in the team’s performance.
“Winning at the state level SkillsUSA crime scene investigation was an astounding feeling, let alone winning a national title,” he said. “My two teammates and I could not have gotten even close to this far without the help of Lt. Wild. Not only was he a great teacher who has taught me an incredible amount of knowledge within the last few years, but you always knew that he really cared for his students and wanted the best for them in the long run.”
Chariho Tech Director Gerald Auth credited the criminal justice program instructors as well as their students with the first-place win. Both Wild and instructor Kristian Calise are retired from the North Providence police department.
“I am very proud of the students for this great accomplishment,” he said. “It’s a great way for these three to finish their high school careers. Lt. Robert Wild and Deputy Chief Kristian Calise run the best criminal justice program in Rhode Island. Their knowledge of the industry and professional experiences prepare these students better than any textbook or online program can.”
Gordon, who entered the criminal justice program when he was a sophomore, said he had worked with teammates Jesuino and Pepler from the beginning and over the years, the team had grown into a cohesive unit.
“We started doing our crime scenes in sophomore year and we’ve been a team since sophomore year, the three of us,” Gordon said. ”I’ve known Zach since he came to the district and I’ve known Nate since we were little kids still in elementary school, so we’ve had good chemistry for a long, long time.”
Wild said he would miss this year’s senior team, but he had more students waiting for their chance to compete.
“You know what? It’s like the New England Patriots,” he said. “I always have more lined up behind these guys, like my junior class this year. They’ve been practicing for two years and I know they’re going to be coming up strong next year.”