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Members of CHS Texas Association of Future Educators Competing at National Conference


                Nine future teachers from Cleburne High School will be competing this weekend at the Educators Rising National Conference in Orlando, including 2023 graduate Journey Harris who is a qualifier for the third consecutive year.

                Also making a return appearance are Khushi Patel and Ivy Grace Smith, who will be competing at the Varsity level following award-winning finishes in the JV division in 2022. Patel came away with the national championship in job Interview and Smith was a bronze medalist for her presentation in the exploration of non-core teaching careers event.

                Rounding out the Cleburne delegation are Allie Aswell, Quetzal Morales, Kassandra Martinez, Isabella Mendez, Aubrey Fisher and Kendall Kindred. Accompanying the students is their teacher and chapter advisor Vanessa Buttler.

                As TAFE competitors they are entered in both individual and team events in which they will demonstrate their knowledge, skills and leadership in education. Each event gives contestants the opportunity to challenge and showcase their creativity, commitment and professionalism.

                Martinez has the distinction of competing at the national conference in two events—exploring non-core subjects in the Careers division, and with Morales in children’s literature-Spanish Grades Kindergarten through 3.

                Patel is hoping for back-to-back wins in job interview; Kindred will be competing in job interview in the JV division. Fisher and Mendez are competitors in JV Interactive Bulletin Board.

                Smith set a goal to qualify for nationals in 2023 while she was still at the 2022 contest. It has been a busy year for the future educator, as in addition to her leadership role in the CHS chapter, she is TAFE Area 10 president.

“I wanted to come back and compete this year,” Smith said. “I learned so much at the national conference and had a wonderful time with my teammates. I also enjoyed meeting kids from across the country who are also considering education as a career.”

“I’m one of our high school student trainers, and last year I chose an event that focused on educators in non-core areas—like our athletic trainers,” Smith said. “I wanted to do something new this year and, inspired by my mother who is a Special Education diagnostician, I chose to explore support service careers in education. It’s very exciting to see this many members of our chapter going to nationals this year. We’re proud of each other, and especially proud of Journey, who is an inspiration to everyone.”

Harris’ record as a veteran competitor in the Educators Rising Conference includes the national championship in JV impromptu speaking in 2021, and she placed sixth in Varsity creative lecture in 2022.

“This is my third year to go to nationals and I think I’m more excited than ever before,” Harris said. “When I competed as a sophomore, it was all done online due to Covid. Competing last year—in person, in Washington, DC—was so much fun. We felt like the dream team.”

“Even though I won in impromptu speaking, I like creative lecture, which is like giving a TED Talk, because you put in the work ahead of time, then go before the judges and present.”

Reflecting the ongoing concern of Covid and its impact on learners nationwide, the prompt for creative lecture competitors asks how schools can foster connectiveness to students after the pandemic.

                In her ten-minute talk, Harris utilizes research and data—and shares her personal story of a teacher who chose to not only address her needs as a student, but to also connect with Harris as a student in need.

Harris’ presentation at the TAFE Teach Tomorrow State Summit not only advanced her to this weekend’s national contest, she was also named a recipient of the Judge’s Choice Scholarship and the Dr. Pat McLeod Scholarship, sponsored by the Career and Technical Association of Texas.

                “It took me a long time to decide about sharing my story,” she said. “The moment I knew I was ready I presented my speech to Mrs. Buttler and she told me it gave her chills. The next week, I had second thoughts and re-wrote my speech without my story—but there was nothing in that speech that showed what was important to me. So, I went back to my original presentation and received top scores from the judges at the Area 10 contest, then at State.”

                Members of the CISD Board of Trustees had the opportunity to hear Harris’ speech during their recognition of the TAFE state competitors and national qualifiers. She was also chosen to speak at the high school’s AVID induction ceremony.

                “When I mentioned to Mrs. Buttler that I needed to practice my speech, I was kind of joking,” she said. “She arranged for me to speak before our assistant principals, then it was suggested that I present before the school board. When I get scared, I scratch my neck. The day I was going to speak at the school board meeting I scratched my neck all day—but I was glad I had that opportunity.”

                As a graduating member of the future educators student organization, Harris is grateful for her three years in TAFE, including serving as chapter president as a sophomore and junior.

                “When I joined TAFE I wanted to be a nurse,” Harris said. “But once I got into it, it just clicked. Other than being a member of the Showstoppers Dance Team, it has been the first place I felt I have fit in. My favorite thing has been working with the younger members. I love to walk them to their competitions and encourage them. I feel like I’ve become a role model for them. Graduation was hard because these have been my ‘babies’ and it’s hard to say goodbye. I’m very excited to see them blossom, and to see what they do next.”

                However, she may not be saying so long to her involvement in TAFE—as a member, leader and competitor.

                “We’ve heard TAFE may be coming to Tarleton State University as a college chapter,” she said. “That’s where I’m going, so I may still be competing.  I’m excited about that.”

                Her work with fellow future educators has also inspired the direction she wants to take in her career as an educator.

                “I thought I wanted to teach science,” Harris said. “But in the end, I want to specialize in being a teacher of future teachers, like Mrs. (Kaleigh) Black and Mrs. Buttler have been for me.”

                “I have enjoyed my journey in TAFE,” she said. “I feel through my involvement and the wonderful opportunities I have experienced I was given a compass. I like to plan things out, but really, it’s about the journey—and it’s been wonderful.”