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SkillsUSA’s No. 1 advisor sees all her students as winners, even if they don’t get the media attention they deserve. Focusing on others helps to turn their perceived negatives into positives

By Craig E. Moore

Cheryl Rees knows a thing or two about winners. The 18-year SkillsUSA advisor has led her students to an astounding 92 regional, 82 state and eight national medals.

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Rees is no stranger to honors herself. She’s received many awards during her tenure, including the Air Force Outstanding Technology Educator and SkillsUSA Georgia Advisor of the Year (twice). And now she’s our national Advisor of the Year.

But like any good instructor, Rees knows that being a winner is about more than just finishing at the top. Winning is about doing your best. She should know — she gives her best every single day.

In Columbus, Ga., Rees is a graphic communications teacher at Kendrick High School, which is often perceived by those in the area as being a “problem” school. In fact, when Rees tells people where she teaches, they often exclaim, “Oh, my God!”

Her response? “What do you mean, ‘Oh, my God’? I love it there. It has that reputation, but they just don’t realize what kind of students we have there.”

Rees sees her students’ potential. “Kids are kids,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what school you’re at. I’ve been to visit some of the other, more affluent schools. Your kids are just like my kids. Maybe mine take a little more attention.”

Part of that attention is involving her students in community service, “which is one of the biggest parts of our chapter,” Rees says. She tries to instill in her class the desire to give back. Some students think community service means just picking up trash or collecting canned goods during the holidays, but Rees teaches hers to assess the local area’s needs and come up with a project on their own.

This past year, the class decided to adopt the U.S. Army Third Infantry Brigade, normally stationed at nearby Fort Benning. The unit had been recently deployed for its third tour of Iraq. “We adopted a platoon of about 45 soldiers and sent them care packages and letters over the past year,” Rees says.

Then the students decided they wanted to do a little more for the soldiers at Fort Benning. This led to a Christmas-card drive they called “Operation Cards for Heroes.” Since they are studying graphic communications, it was natural for the students to design and print the cards themselves. They asked people to donate their own cards as well.

The project exceeded their wildest expectations. “We were going to get like 500, we thought,” Rees remembers, “but we got 1,814 cards.”

Directing attention to the positive Despite these successes, this advisor often finds it difficult to get publicity for her students’ achievements.

“For some reason, our school has a bad reputation,” Rees says. “We have all these great things the kids are doing in the school, yet the media doesn’t want to publicize it. But anytime bad things happen at our school, they’re out there immediately.”

She cares enough to be available for her students all the time — and not only in the classroom. “I call them. Even in the summer. I really want them to succeed and do the best they can do,” she adds.

Rees also likes to make sure her students are exposed to areas outside the community, which is why she organizes several excursions to tour businesses and see what opportunities could await them after graduation.

“Some teachers don’t want their kids out of the classroom for any reason,” she points out. “I understand that, with the academic teachers with the test scores and all, but there are things outside of test scores.”

Rees says she wants to make sure her students have a well-rounded education. “They don’t know what kind of opportunities are out there unless you take them and show them.”

Rounding out
 the regions’ best advisors

Before being named Advisor of the Year, Cheryl Rees was nominated and selected as best in her SkillsUSA region. Here are the other regional finalists.

(From left) Regional Advisors of the Year Kuretsch, Rees, Richard, Pointer and Bell

Nancy Bell has been a SkillsUSA advisor at Calvert Career Center in Prince Frederick, Md., for 21 years. For nine of the last 10 years, Bell’s Outstanding Chapter students have placed in the top three at the SkillsUSA Championships. Bell is her school’s vocational evaluator as well as media information specialist. Her main gauge of success are the students she reaches; many often return to thank her after they’ve graduated and gone on to pursue their careers.

A diesel technology instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, David Richard has served SkillsUSA as an advisor for the past 17 years. His students have won their SkillsUSA state diesel competition 11 times, and at the nationals, they’ve placed in the top 10 nine times. They are also heavily involved in community service activities, from blood drives to work with Habitat for Humanity. Richard has been called “a special kind of man” by his peers.

Larry Kuretsch is an automotive technology instructor at El Campo (Texas) High School, from which he graduated in 1970. Upon returning to his old school, he re-established its SkillsUSA program and achieved Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification. After his 19 years as an advisor, Kuretsch’s influence is such that fellow teachers have called his students “exceptionally trained and prepared for the industry.”

Called a “thought-provoking and dynamic instructor” by peers, Michael Pointer was a welding instructor for 30 years and a SkillsUSA advisor for the past 18 at Regional Technical Institute in Reno, Nev. He retired at the end of the last school year. In the words of a former student, “his valuable insight into business and industry and selfless contributions toward learning are a testament to the kind of devotion he has toward career and technical education.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Fall 2008 | Volume 43, No. 1
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