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Riding the Magic Bus
With a First-Time Advisor

When Cherie Thomas set out to build a better chapter, it seemed it would take a miracle. But it was good old-fashioned work that got the job done — with some good fortune.

The SkillsUSA chapter at Parsons (Kan.) High School was struggling when rookie advisor Cherie Thomas took over last year. But by summer, it was thriving with business and administration support.

Thomas started recruiting in the fall, at a “club fair” where she spoke to students. She then visited the school’s 12 technical classes, handed out information and showed SkillsUSA’s Web site. At parent-teacher conferences, she explained the great opportunities membership provides.
It was after Thomas took eight students to SkillsUSA’s Mid-America Leadership Conference in Nebraska that they came back fired up and ready to spread the word.

“I had students speaking in official dress at every school board meeting possible to promote the chapter. All of our meetings are televised, so I had a dual purpose,” she says. “By the end of the year, we had 66 paid members in all of our technical areas.” They also gained business partners.

Many would be content with such phenomenal growth, but not Thomas. Her school was sending four competitors to the national conference in Kansas City, so she decided it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce SkillsUSA to more people.

“We invited all our incoming freshmen because it’s a great way to build programs,” she says. “We also invited all school board members and our business partners. We ended up taking about 25 incoming fresh-men, six business partners, one school board member and two teachers.”

Unfortunately, the cost of a bus charter and the driver’s time was more than $700. But when instructor Buzz Palmer called Goodwill Tours in Erie, Kan., to arrange for transportation, he got a big surprise.

“The gentleman who is the manager for the bus company used to be a printing instructor years ago,” Thomas explains. “He believed in the [SkillsUSA] program and he said, ‘We need to donate this.’ ”

Not everyone who got on the bus was inclined to be a supporter, but the trip provided a miraculous turnaround.

“Our school board member that went wasn’t overly sold on vocational education,” Thomas notes. “When she came back, she said many times, ‘This is where we need to be.’ ” Not that the advisor was surprised. “Who could go to the national conference and not be sold? If that doesn’t sell them … they will never be sold.”

So maybe it wasn’t a magic bus, but the trip did spark excitement that remarkably lived on after school began in the fall.

“Yesterday was our first meeting of the year. We are looking at 110-plus members this year,” Thomas enthuses. “Most of the new ones either went on the bus trip or heard about it from others. We are already planning another one next year.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Fall 2002 | Volume 37, No. 1
Copyright ©2002 SkillsUSA. All rights reserved.