During the last five years or so, teacher Kevin Chiasson and a group of his students at Yorkton Regional High School have parlayed their passion and considerable skill with robotics as a springboard to see the world.
When the latest roster of this annually successful program heads off to Abu Dhabi in October to compete in the 44th WordSkills Competition, it will mark four continents that they have conquered in what has been a remarkable string of successes.
It’s the classic small guy takes on the big guy and comes out on top–including most recently in Sweden last December where the current group qualified for Team Canada.
Certainly for Chiasson, who aside from his day job in the Practical and Applied Arts program at the school, it is the latest in this globetrotting sequence which has included similar successes in places such as Brazil and Germany. They have also competed annually at various locales in Canada where they have managed to garner three national titles.
“It’s been so cool to see and experience the different cultures and just the environment at these events. We’ve all learned so much from our involvement and about other societies. It’s just been the whole package and who would ever have thought this could happen,” Chiasson marvelled.
“We usually compete against much bigger schools with more resources and the whole package but these kids are just so motivated and they work so hard and put in a lot of time. Motivation and experience is a big part of this, and success breeds success without question,” Chiasson added.
The accomplishments are even more impressive when considered against the backdrop that it’s often not other schools they are competing against but older competitors.
As Chiasson points out, “this isn’t high school stuff; it’s industry standards in terms of what these students have to do.”
Chiasson explains that the competition is arguably just as fierce right at home, where currently, there are three teams from the school vying for the two available spots at provincials, for example.
He goes to great lengths to point out that ultimately it’s the experience and confidence that is built that means more than banners or trophies.
“There are no winners and losers and that’s not the important part. It’s what they learn from being part of something like this and I’ve seen how some of them have come out of their shell and have gained such confidence. That’s been really cool for me to be part of and it’s like I have found my home,” said Chiasson, who is a carpenter by trade.
Chiasson continues to be somewhat perplexed by the fact that even with this impressive international resumé, the students in the program still don’t receive the sort of attention the school’s sports teams do. However, he said those who have an interest in this area have definitely taken notice and they are motivated by the plaudits the program has earned.
This involved the Grade 10 class who is getting what Chiasson called the foundational stuff where they are learning how to manipulate the tools. It’s a secret to keeping the program successful, and that has included some girls enrolling along the way, although admittedly still in small numbers.
In the Chiasson household, it has become pretty much an obsession, including son Bo, who has gone from being part of the early successes as a competitor to now being involved as the trainer. Younger son Brock is part of the most recent team that has advanced to the WorldSkills Competition along with teammates Sean Furber, Brett Guenther and James Thiessen. There’s also another young son who seems certain to pick up the mantle in the years ahead.
“Our students leave here and the world really opens up for them. They have such an ability to perform their tasks under pressure and they have the perseverance. They have a great skill set that they can build on,” Chiasson said, who added that the community is also supportive for the notoriety it brings to Yorkton, while stressing that they also pound the pavement for fundraising.
“The bottom line is always going to be that this program is for everyone and you don’t have to want to compete in these events because it’s the learning that really makes it successful,” Chiasson said.