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Seven Barrhead, Westlock students earn medals at provincial Skills competition

COVID-19 pandemic required most students to compete ‘virtually’, either at home or at school

BARRHEAD/WESTLOCK - Seven students from R.F. Staples School in Westlock and Barrhead Composite High School (BCHS) netted a mix of gold, silver and bronze medals at the provincial Skills Canada competition. 

Skills Canada is a national non-profit organization originally founded in 1989 with the goal of promoting skilled trades and technology careers to Canadian youth. 

Each year, in partnership with a number of member organizations, students from across Canada compete in a series of regional, provincial/territorial and national competitions under the Skills Canada banner. 

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this competition was again conducted in a largely virtual format, with students either competing at school or at home. 

These competitions were held in late April and the students learned of their results via an online ceremony in mid-May, which can be viewed at the Pembina Hills School Division website ( 

R.F. Staples medals 

While it’s not unheard of for a single school to sweep an entire category at the Skills competition, R.F. Staples senior carpentry teacher Kevin MacKenzie said it is very rare for that to happen. 

As their teacher, however, MacKenzie can confirm that Kate Grimmeyer, Zaidyn Pipke and Morgan Crawford are just that good. 

“My team trained hard and we trained long and we put a lot of hours in even before we hit the competition ... They were very ready for it," he said, adding that all three students were pretty close to each other in skill. 

MacKenzie, who also acted as the Skills coordinator for R.F. Staples, said they would normally only be able to enter one or two students in a category, but some other school divisions weren’t able to fill their spots this year. 

“That’s the first time that we’ve been able to do that," he said. 

As part of the Carpentry category, all three students were called on to build a large framed dog house (or a small playhouse, depending on how you look at it). 

As noted earlier, the competition occurred in a virtual format as opposed to an on-site competition. As such, MacKenzie had to provide them with their blueprints and materials. 

MacKenzie noted that two of the students were able to work at the school, but one of them had to work from home due to being identified as a close contact of a COVID-positive individual. 

While it was good that they could still compete, MacKenzie admitted that sort of rocked their world a little. 

He said the students were monitored as they worked on the project from start to finish, and were ultimately judged on how well they were able to complete the design. 

“Accuracy is key. These kids will build to within one millimetre of a required measurement,” he said. 

“Honest to Pete, the skills they have are equivalent to a first-year apprentice by the time they’re done.” 

Also earning a gold medal from R.F. Staples was Cooper Harbin, who was entered in the Automobile Technology Skills Competition. 

Senior mechanics teacher Aaron Deas said that during a normal year, Harbin would be competing at the EXPO Centre in Edmonton with 15-20 journeyman mechanics overseeing the competitors as they worked through various stations. 

This year, Deas said they were given materials to set up a total of six work stations at R.F. Staples. At each station, he was given 50 minutes to complete an assigned task. 

Deas said there were three hands-on stations where he worked on brake, suspension and electrical systems, while the other three stations were done on the computer. 

At those latter three stations, Cooper worked with virtual engine and drivetrain simulations where he had several knowledge checks, but he also had to diagnose and repair vehicle systems. 

Deas said that Cooper is a third-year student finishing out his last few weeks of Automotive Mechanics. This was his second entry in the Automobile Technology Skills Competition, but his first gold medal. 

“Cooper worked hard these past three years leading up to his gold win at the provincial competition. Throughout his time working at Westlock Ford, R.F. Staples and with his buddies on the weekends, he has become a very experienced and talented young mechanic,” Deas said. 

A third R.F. Staples student, Sarah Grainger, also won bronze in the hairstyling intermediate category. 

Because of their gold medal finishes, however, only Harbin and Grimmeyer advanced to the national competition. They both completed their respective projects during the last week of May. 

Regardless of how they finish out, however, MacKenzie said he wanted to commend R.F. Staples principal Wayne Rufiange for his support of the students, as well as all of the competitors from the Westlock school for their commitment to this event amidst what has been a very difficult year. 

“For those kids to come together and step up to the plate and answer the call like that, that just speaks volumes about their dedication and their skill,” he said. 

BCHS medals 

While Jayleana Baron came away from the provincial competition feeling confident about how well she had done, she still wasn’t sure that her efforts would net her a second consecutive gold medal in Workplace Safety. 

“I felt really good about how I did. But then there’s also (the fact that) you don’t know how everybody else did,” she said. 

“It was really nice and special this year that I was able to win again, because it allowed me to move up (to the national competition), which is something I never got to do last year.” 

When asked how she came to compete in Workplace Safety two years in a row, Jayleana said there wasn’t a defining moment she made the decision to enter that category. 

The first time she went to the provincial skills contest, she competed in fashion technology as a Grade 10 student. However, teacher Dan Sribney — who acted as Barrhead Composite’s Skills coordinator — suggested that she might be better suited for workplace safety while they were awaiting results. 

Baron said Sribney knew her through her brother, who had taken Sribney’s mechanics classes. He also knew she was in 4-H, which involved making a lot of presentations, and that she lives on the farm, which can be a hazardous work environment. 

Jayleana said she thought it would be interesting to try it out, knowing that Workplace Safety is relevant to any job or worksite. 

She prepared for the competition in both years by reading safety modules provided by her brother, who is studying to become a heavy-duty mechanic. Sribney also provided her modules relating to fields like carpentry and logging. 

She also took the HCS-3000 and HCS-30-10 safety courses through the school, along with an agricultural safety course, along with an interactive hazard assessment offered by Worksafe B.C. 

Jayleana said the 2021 Skills Competition was fairly similar to that of 2020, being conducted in a largely virtual format. 

The competition was split into two parts, with the first part requiring Jayleana to examine three images of a workplace and identify/classify six hazards within them. 

In the second portion, she was given a couple of topics (fatigue in the workplace or drugs in the workplace) and had to compile a presentation over the course of a half-hour on either topic. She then had to deliver said presentation on her chosen subject live for judges. 

The only major difference between this year and 2020 was that her presentation was pre-recorded last year, not live. 

At the national competition, which Jayleana entered on May 27, she was also asked to examine three photos of a sample workplace. However, these samples were chock full of workplace hazards, and she had to simply pick the top 12. 

“You could have picked well above 12 hazards. Those workplaces were NOT safe by any means,” she said, noting that she was also called on to perform a hazard assessment of a product. 

Besides Jayleana’s gold medal won, BCHS student Avery Strydhorst also earned a bronze medal in the Automotive category. 

In order to compete, Sribney said he had to set up six different work stations at the school with an assigned task for Avery to complete at each station. 

Three of these stations involved hands-on work, while the other three saw Avery complete paperwork. The assigned tasks involved looking at brake stability, suspension systems, drive lines, electrical systems and engine performance.

Kevin Berger,

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