A common goal during a student’s time is to find their niche, a place where they can thrive both in their work and with the people around them. For three recent Sealy High graduates, Shawna McDaniel, Vanessa Mares and Evelyn Gonzalez, and junior Joanna Posada, they found their niche this spring and capped it off in historic fashion.
The four compromised of Sealy High’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America team who competed across Texas in competitions of culinary arts and etiquette. The team made it all the way to regionals in both areas and advanced to state in etiquette.
“Preparing for etiquette is a lot like preparing for a whole other class on top of your normal school work, it’s basically an exam that we have to put together that tests you on all types of rules while eating,” Posada said. “Stuff like if you’re supposed to eat tacos with your fingers and how to properly eat soup.”
The students joined the team because they saw it as a fun opportunity but it quickly grew into something they were passionate about.
“We were talking about it and [faculty sponsor] Ms. [Angela] Gutowsky helped us put it all together and study once she realized how serious we were about it,” McDaniel said. “She did a lot for us in setting everything up and making sure we succeeded and being able to say we did that turned out to be way more fun than we realized.”
All four students earned medals in etiquette at the state competition in Dallas in early April. McDaniel and Mares won gold while Posada walked away with a silver and Mares with a bronze. Their hardware was enough to advance them to nationals, the first time in school history the FCCLA team reached nationals.
“We were happy enough making state so the pressure was off and when we found out we won, it was amazing because we all did better in state than we did in regionals and to do that together was something really special,” McDaniel said. “The whole experience was just a great time to spend with the team.”
Time spent together is what the team values equally, if not more, than their accomplishments and medals. Posada said the bond they formed over the season was something that was particularly special to her.
“This is my first year in Sealy since I moved from Florida and this is where I made my closest friends is with the team because at first it was little things like meetings and making posters,” Posada said. “Then it turned into this bigger thing and it’s an experience that is a lot like a family sort of thing.”
As Posada looks to continue to build the program next year so others can experience what they did this spring, the seniors know they left a good foundation in place for future success.
“I definitely take pride in what we did because FCCLA wasn’t really that big until we made this team so to do that and then reach nationals the same year was something really special,” McDaniel said. “Going on these trips and being able to have success is something I hope a lot of people would be interested in and I know we’re just happy that we can look back in a few years and know that was because of us.”
Gutowsky said the foundation laid down by the four students not only was set up by their success but what they did behind the scenes to make that success happen.
“We wanted to test it out and see how it works in hopes for the future so when they placed at regionals, it was such a great moment because we hadn’t expected that and there were a lot of tears of happiness,” Gutowsky said. “I’m just ridiculously proud of them because it wasn’t something we’ve done before but they’ve put in so much work and so many nights working late and really made it their own.”
Due to the competition being held in Atlanta post-graduation along with other rules and budgetary reasons, the team will be unable to compete in nationals. Despite not being able to compete, McDaniel said the invitation to was enough recognition for their work.
“We could go still because they have a lot of team-building activities but really we were just happy with that because it meant that we made it all the way,” McDaniel said. “Nobody looked at it seriously and we pushed it to this point and we did it together with Ms. Gutowsky and that’s something I’m really happy about.”