Waldorf teen wins gold in national skills competition
North Point grad earns top honors in early childhood education
North Point High School graduate Maria Miller put her knowledge and love of early childhood education on the national stage last month, becoming one of six Maryland students to win a gold medal in the Skills-USA national competition.
When they called the
winners for bronze and silver, Miller, 18, a recent graduate of North Point High School, said she assumed she didn’t place, but when they called her name for gold, Miller said she was “floored.”
“You know that feeling on a rollercoaster when you first go down the hill? That’s what I felt like,” the Waldorf teen said.
Melissa Palmer, one of Miller’s education teachers at North Point, said the program has competed at the national level in SkillsUSA for the past five years, but this was a first gold medal.
“Knowing what she does at school, and knowing her personality, I knew she was going to do really well, and thought she would be in the top 10, probably top 5, so it was very exciting to hear her name called for gold, and she certainly deserved it,” Palmer said.
SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit student organization that promotes and encourages career and technical education. Its mission is “to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens,” according to the SkillsUSA website.
From June 19-24, approximately 6,500 state SkillsUSA contest winners — from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands — competed in the SkillsUSA Championships in 87 different trade, technical or leadership fields at its National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky.
Contests are run with the help of industry, trade associations and labor organizations, and test competencies are set by each industry, according to the SkillsUSA website.
Miller was only one of three students from Charles County to score in the top 10 in their division.
Carl Wachowski of North Point High School won a bronze medal in the medical terminology competition and Michelle Young, also a student at North Point, won seventh place in the advertising design competition.
Miller said she’s always wanted to be a teacher, for as long as she can remember.
“When you’re little, that’s one of the first jobs you hear about — a doctor, a dentist and a teacher,” Miller said. “I’ve always thought it was an awesome way to reach out to future generations.”
Miller said she has a particular interest in early childhood education.
“You get to develop that foundation for children and develop the love for learning that they’re going to use throughout their educational career, and I think that is really awesome,” Miller said.
Miller applied to the education careers program at North Point, part of the school’s Science, Technology and Industry (STI) program.
She said she joined the school’s SkillsUSA group but never competed until her senior year, when her teachers encouraged her to compete.
“I thought that she had what it took; I also thought it would be a really good experience for her,” Palmer said. “Over the course of my years teaching, you sometimes see that spark in some students who have that natural talent that you can’t teach. I can teach them the science behind teaching, but they have to come with that innate quality, and that was something that was evident in Maria even as a sophomore.”
In order to compete in SkillsUSA, students must first place in their regional and state competitions. Miller, in her first year of competing, took first place in both the regional and the state competitions.
“I just wanted to do the best I could and represent my school well,” Miller said.
In the Early Childhood Education competition, students must demonstrate their knowledge of developmentally appropriate practice and their ability to design and implement learning activities for children ages 3 to 5, by preparing a written lesson plan and taking a written test that assesses their knowledge of child development and effective teaching strategies, according to the SkillsUSA website.
“For nationals, I had three hours to prepare a lesson plan, create all of my materials, memorize my lesson plan,” Miller said.
She was also interviewed before a panel of judges on her knowledge of teaching before having to go teach her lesson to an imaginary class of students, represented by dolls, in front of a panel of judges.
“You have to do it just like you would in a real classroom, you have to give wait time for the imaginary children to answer questions,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of acting involved, but it’s pretty exciting.”
Judges also questioned her on how she would react to a given scenario, and later, she read a story to another group of imaginary students before a panel of judges.
“You have to do just like you would teach,” Miller said. “You have to answer questions, give the author and illustrator, ask questions during your reading, use different voices, just as you would in front of real children,” Miller said.
Despite sweeping the regional and state competitions, Miller was surprised to win gold at the national level.
“I did not think I was going to win first, I was really nervous,” Miller said. “I felt confident, but I still didn’t know if I could win first.”
Her mother, Suzie Miller, said Maria has always had a passion for working with younger children.
“Children naturally gravitate to her, she has this aura about her, this patience with children,” Suzie Miller said. “I tell everybody that I knew she was going to win the gold medal ... there was no doubt in my mind.”
Miller has been accepted to Towson University where she plans to double major in early childhood education and special education in the fall, with eventual plans to go into teaching.
“Maria is that student who, if we are lucky, we will get her back as a teacher in Charles County, and her future students will be very, very lucky to have her,” Palmer said. “She is absolutely a born teacher.”
Maria Miller, 18, a North Point High School graduate from Waldorf, won the gold medal in Early Childhood Education at the National SkillsUSA competition held last month in Louisville, Ky.
Waldorf resident Maria Miller, 18, a recent graduate of North Point High School, holds up her gift basket of educational materials after winning the gold medal in the national SkillsUSA competition held June 19-23 in Louisville, Ky.
North Point High School education instructor Melissa Palmer with her former student, recent graduate Maria Miller, 18, of Waldorf. Miller won the gold medal in Early Childhood Education at the national SkillsUSA competition, held June 19-23 in Louisville, Ky.