Students show golden skillsKyle Ilenda and Spencer Johnson are golden. The recent 2010 Superior High School graduates stopped by the school Thursday with gold medals sparkling around their necks.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Kyle Ilenda and Spencer Johnson are golden. The recent 2010 Superior High School graduates stopped by the school Thursday with gold medals sparkling around their necks. They earned the title of top television production team in the nation during the Skills USA national championship last month in Kansas City, Mo.
“We affectionately refer to them as the twins,” said their advisor and teacher Dale Van Ert. “Where you find one of these two, you find the other.”
In the 15 years he’s been the Skills USA advisor, Van Ert has brought youth to nationals 14 times. They have snagged four silver medals and one bronze medal in photography and chapter business practices. This is Superior’s first gold. The teacher attributes it to “the twins.”
“They work extremely well together; the talent pool is extremely high and they’ve got the passion,” Van Ert said.
Both have other hobbies – Johnson bikes, skis and dives into mechanical projects; Ilenda played soccer all four years of high school and he crochets. But, Van Ert said, the two are true students of filmmaking, staying up until 2 a.m. some mornings to watch videos on the profession.
“If I could get up every morning and do it, I would,” Ilenda said. “I haven’t lost interest in it in five years. Actually it gets more interesting as you go on.”
They say Van Ert and the technical education program at Superior High School played a big part in feeding their passion.
“I fell blessed, lucky that I found something I liked,” Johnson said. “And if I can work doing this, that’s a dream come true. If more people could do that, it would be awesome.”
The gold medalists got interested in filmmaking while recording their seventh-grade skiing adventures with an early 1990s digital video recorder. Two years ago, the aspiring filmmakers took Van Ert’s basic television production class. They were, according to the teacher, a little stubborn.
“As juniors you couldn’t tell them anything, but as seniors you couldn’t tell them enough,” he said with a grin.
The teens credit last year’s national Skills USA competition for changing their attitude.
“We thought we were top dogs going in two years ago,” Ilenda said. “The worst thing that could have happened was for us to be on the podium because then we would have thought our videos were good.
“And the reality was they weren’t,” he said.
The raw competition gave them the desire to do better, learn more. In their senior year, both teens were in Van Ert’s television production class two hours a day.
“I always tell people without a doubt, no regret, easily one of the most enjoyable classes I’ve taken in high school,” Ilenda said. “As far as learning goes, I learned the most out of this class.”
The lessons ranged from making and editing video to time management, communicating with others and doing what you say you will.
“A lot of things that actually matter,” Johnson agreed.
The teens took what they learned into Kansas City’s Power and Light District, similar to the Canal Park area of Duluth. They spent four hours shooting video for a 60-second commercial targeted to 30- to 55-year old educated professionals. The next day they spent an equal amount of time editing their clips. During that time, they couldn’t discuss the project with Van Ert. They also took a written test. On the third day, they screamed in excitement as they were named best in the nation.
While both young men plan to pursue engineering degrees in college – Johnson in Grand Rapids and Ilenda at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — they haven’t hung up their cameras yet. This summer, they plan to shoot a promotional film for the United Way of Superior-Douglas County.
“We’re trying to get into the local commercial market if anyone’s interested,” Johnson said with a grin. They can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.
The national champions left some words of advice for the next generation of students.
“If you’re lost in the academics, check out tech ed,” Johnson said.
Ilenda discussed it on a recent episode of “Coaches Corner” with SHS Activities Director Ray Kosey.
“Kyle said something in that show that I think will stick with me forever,” Van Ert said. “At the end, Ray asked if they had anything to add. Kyle looked at him very calmly and succinctly and said, ‘Respect tech ed.’”
Skills USA is one of the career and technical student organizations at SHS and is for students involved in technology education courses. There are approximately 350,000 students nationwide, of which 5,200 qualified to compete at nationals by being the gold medalists from their state. Another SHS student who traveled to the national competition, Kevin Ostrowski, finished 21st in the photography category.