Learning career skills to be best in class

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LEWISTON — Like a scene from the TV show “Chopped,” 10 student chefs hustled in Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s Green Ladle kitchen Wednesday, creating soup, parsley potatoes, julienne carrots, brown rice and dressing.

“Six more minutes people! Start cleaning!” yelled culinary arts head chef Dan Caron.

The pace quickened.

Soon, the high school students marched their plates to the dining room, where four judges waited to taste, compare and pick a top chef who would go on to the state competition.

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It was part of LRTC’s annual skills competition, Week of Champions. More than 400 students in programs, including automotive, health care, engineering and accounting, compete for best in their program.

In the culinary skills, students had three hours to make their meal. They were judged on taste, presentation, execution and creativity.

“I was really nervous,” Lewiston High School senior Cam Brosseau said. “The mayonnaise dressing didn’t come out right,” and the rice could have been better, he said. Overall, his plate was good, he said. He came in second.

Kristie Benoit of Lisbon High School came in first and will go to the state competition. Marc Oshansky of Edward Little High School in Auburn came in third.

Asked about his technique, Brosseau said he seared his chicken to lock in juices, baked it and used a sweet and sour glaze. He used a brown sugar glaze on his carrots.

Pulling it together was nerve-racking, he said. To sear the chicken, cook the rice, potatoes, carrots and soup, “we only had two burners to use. That was the most challenging part.”

In the LRTC building inside Lewiston High School, certified nursing assistant students stood by projects they created for their competition. They nervously waited for judges to quiz them.

“They’ve all picked their skill they want to learn more about,” pre-nursing instructor Lori Fish said. Students in this program earn certified nursing assistant certificates. Some get jobs at local hospitals or nursing homes, and some continue their education, Fish said.

For her project, Marian Breton, 16, of Lisbon, compared the job of a CNA to that of a registered nurse. One difference is salary. “CNAs are underpaid,” she said, earning $20,000 to $27,000 a year. An RN can earn $64,000 a year, she said.

Poland High School student Ranissa Berry, 16, studied the pulse; when it’s typically high or low, and how it can help determine overall health.

Greg Anderson, 16, of Lewiston High School, researched blood sugar, explaining why diabetics have to constantly monitor it. He said he plans to become a physician assistant.

Downstairs in automotive, students competed for best in class by performing at eight stations.

One station had a red sedan that failed an inspection sticker. Students had to figure out why, and notice that the tires were too worn and the rearview mirror was missing, instructor Maurice Bernier said.

Students also had to exhibit welding skills, identify motor vehicle parts and test vehicle parts, including a fuel pump, to see if they were working. Community professionals served as judges.

It was the fifth year of the Week of Champion competition. Interest has grown from 80 students participating five years ago to more than 400 of the total LRTC enrollment of 690, Director Rob Callahan said.

“Students love to show off what they’ve learned,” he said. They get excited about learning career skills. “This is their thing.”

Several LRTC programs have to turn away students because the programs are full.

“I’d love to see every high school student have the ability to experience one of our programs,” Callahan said. In addition to teaching collaboration and critical thinking, “it gives them such good work-related skills,” he said.

The state competition will be held in Bangor and South Portland in March.

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