MANATEE -- More than 700 Manatee County Technical Student Association students will face off Saturday, competing in catapult, dragster, digital photography, bridge designer and chapter team events in preparation for the four-day statewide competition in February.
The annual event helps students refine and prepare for what the state competition will look like and also helps the individual schools narrow down who they will send to compete at the state level, said Pamela Platt, a technology teacher at Bayshore High School, which is hosting this year's event. All the district high schools and middle schools and some of the elementary schools will compete in the daylong event Saturday, which rotates school to school each year. About 700 students will be there competing in a dozen different events.
"Manatee County just has a very strong commitment to the technology programs in all the schools," Platt said. The emphasis and opportunity are credited in large part to efforts by Doug Wagner, the head of Manatee Technical College and the head of the district's career and
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Wagner also points to the dedicated teachers in the district as to why students do so well. But the district-wide competition also helps.
In its 11th year, Manatee County is one of the only districts in the state of Florida to do a competition like this before the state level.
It was originally intended to be able to increase student participation in competitions.
"They're thinking about it long before everyone else," Wagner said. "This way, all our students can participate, all our students are given that opportunity."
Going to the next level
Year after year, Manatee County also has a strong showing at the state and national TSA competitions. The TSA clubs at each school are made up of students in the technology programs who wish to take their education to the next level and compete.
As the field has evolved and changed, Platt said more people have begun to realize how wide-ranging the technology field is and how attractive it can be to both male and female students.
In the past six or seven years, TSA has begun to expand into the more design-centered aspects of competition, including fashion design, which appeal to a broader range of students.
One key way to attract girls is with some of the art-based technology events, like fashion design and digital photography. But girls are also beginning to enter some of the more traditionally male-dominated events, like engineering and structural design.
"We have a really wide gamut of opportunity for students," Platt said.
The event -- which runs from 8 a.m. to about 5 p.m. -- will take over the school cafeteria, gymnasium, courtyard and classrooms as the students work their way through the events.
High school advisers will judge and assist in the middle school events, and middle school advisers will judge and assist in the high school events, to help keep the events free from bias, Platt said.
The event is run similarly to the state competition, but in a condensed version.
For certain events, schools can send only two or three students to compete in the state-level competition, so Saturday's event will be high stakes for some schools. For others, it'll be a chance to refine and get a taste of what competition is like at the state level.
In addition to the competition aspect, the technology programs in Manatee County do a great job of preparing students for college and the workforce, Platt said.
The district offers industry certifications in certain areas, so students can leave high school and go directly into the workforce with the certifications.
The students are well-prepared if they choose to go to college and continue their studies, often having a leg up from other students who may not have been as advanced in technology programs while in high school.
"The opportunities really are amazing," she said.
Platt and other organizers have been preparing for the event since September, working to finalize the events, secure the space and find volunteers.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.