Two Scottsbluff High School seniors finished out their high school careers with a second place finish at the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of American (FCCLA) national conference.
Jaqueline Lara Patino and Lluvia Montelongo were awarded second place in the nation with their sustainability challenge project. The Bearcats received a score of 95 out of 100. They both received a $35,000 scholarship to Sullivan University.
“We’ve both been passionate to help build a more sustainable community,” Lluvia Montelongo said about coming up with the project idea. “We chose sustainability again this year just because we knew our way around it and advocate for it all year round.”
The seniors realized Scottsbluff’s landfill is approaching capacity, so they wanted to present a project that would offer a solution to the future problem.
“Our goal for this project was to help people understand and educate them on how to make compost bins because right now, people think a sustainable lifestyle is only for rich people,” Montelongo said. “You can make DIY (do it yourself) compost bins with items that may be in your backyard.”
Montelongo added how landfills emit carbon dioxide, especially from food waste, which is released into the air and contributes to climate change. If the community created compost bins, she said it would reduce CO2 emissions.
SHS FCCLA adviser Anne Schmall helped Patino and Montelongo identify items like recycled bricks that could be used for a compost waste garden as well as identify the problem with the landfill to best create a solution.
Three other Scottsbluff High School FCCLA students also attended the conference. Jennifer Torres, Krisstana Jessica Perez and Julia Cisneros created a project on public advocacy. They placed 15th with a score of 86. They were named Nebraska state runners-up.
Students competed at the district-level, presenting their projects to judges virtually in February. The top two projects in each event moved on to the state competition.
Patino and Montelongo were named the Nebraska state champions for their project.
This year’s hybrid national FCCLA conference was held in Nashville, Tennessee, June 27 through July 2. Prior to attending the conference, students presented their projects virtually while the recognition of their success happened in person.
Schmall said she was proud of her students’ perseverance this past school year in what she considered a difficult year of competition.
“Honestly, this year’s competition for districts, state and national, in my opinion, was even more difficult than a traditional year because you had the added element of creating everything virtually and getting your project and your understanding of the concept across to someone you were never actually going to get to have a conversation with,” she said.
Students had to record their projects, save their materials in a digital format and upload it to a system. With the virtual project requirements, Schmall said the students dedicated extra hours to filming at each level of competition.
“The recording that we used at districts and state couldn’t be used at nationals because of how we recorded it,” Schmall said. “We projected it on a screen, so the image of their project would be larger behind them when they were presenting, but the national organization wanted it to be as similar to what it would have been if done in person. In person, you can't have anything that has to be plugged in, so we couldn’t use a projector.”
Montelongo added how they were unable to receive nonverbal feedback from the judges this year, so they could not provide additional information for clarification.
“A big challenge was because of COVID-19 we had to do our presentation virtually,” she said. “We had to look at a camera, rather than presenting it with enthusiasm to judges. When you present you get feedback from the audience’s reaction, but there were no judges there, so that was hard.”
FCCLA students also struggled finding opportunities to present their projects to the community during COVID. However, Montelongo hopes their project made an impact.
“I was proud of us because it was demotivating to do it virtually and we couldn’t talk to our community, so we were demotivated but at least we made nationals,” she said. “We realized that our presentation was thought out a lot and, hopefully, it was enough to change mindsets.”
While the students would typically present once at nationals, this year, they had to submit their presentation and electronic portfolio by late April. Judges from across the country reviewed and scored all of the projects the week of May 12, but the awards were not handed out until the closing ceremony of the conference. National FCCLA reported the conference had about 1,500 people attending in person with some schools tuning in virtually. There were about 4,000 to 5,000 people in attendance at previous events.
The top three groups were called up on stage and then announced the placing.
“They knew going into Nashville that they had placed in the top three, but that was all we knew,” Schmall said. “I was so excited for them. It was amazing to know that they put such hard work into their projects and both of these young ladies are very involved at the high school, so they had other activities on top of their projects and being seniors who graduated in May.
“I’m so proud of all of their hard work and so excited to see them get this accomplishment,” she added. “All of the career academies at Scottsbluff High School provide our students with opportunities to see the connection between what they can learn in school and the ‘real world.’”
Despite having to adjust to a new presentation style, students overcame hurdles to not only apply their classroom lessons, but also impact their community.