HELLA SKILLS From left to right: Culinary and restaurant students Sara Cavallo, Julia Dolph and Hadley Rueter; advisor Derek Corsino; and engineering students Henry Herrod, Jac Campbell and Ross Fitzpatrick pose with their SkillsUSA awards. (Photo courtesy of Derek Corsino)

A growing movement at Healdsburg High School to expand vocational education paid off last weekend in SoCal, where six HHS students medaled in the annual statewide SkillsUSA competition.

Competing against regional winners from across California, local students took home gold in three categories: “culinary arts,” “baking and pastry” and “engineering technology and design.” They’ll now go on to represent California in the SkillsUSA national championships, scheduled for June in Atlanta.

The winning design for the engineering category: A phone battery powered by algae that students harvested from the Russian River.

Kids like these “are going to be the ones solving the big problems in the world, going forward,” says Derek Corsino, who oversees SkillsUSA training at the high school. Corsino, a pastry chef who once competed on a Food Network baking show, also leads the elite culinary program at HHS.

He says 24 students from Healdsburg competed in more than 10 events at the state contest this year. Compare that to 17 students competing in seven events last year—and the year before that, Healdsburg’s first year at SkillsUSA, 14 students in five events, according to Corsino.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “We’ve come so far.”

At nationals in Atlanta, all eyes will be on HHS senior Hadley Rueter, a star culinary arts student who has won the statewide SkillsUSA competition three times now. She took home bronze at nationals her first year, according to her advisor, but suffered a “humbling” timing mishap during the competition last year that ruled out a medal—so she’s “coming in with a vengeance” this year, Corsino says.

Another of his students, junior Sara Cavallo, won gold in the state “baking and pastry” competition last weekend, so she’ll compete in Atlanta this summer as well.

And another, junior Julia Dolph—who previously won two bronze medals for culinary arts at state—tried out the “restaurant service” competition this year. She took home silver.

On the non-culinary side of the aisle, a trio of HHS students interested in science—junior Jac Campbell, sophomore Henry Herrod and junior Ross Fitzpatrick—just clinched gold in the state “engineering technology and design” competition for their river-algae battery.

Their advisor, Bernadette Calhoun, teaches math at the high school and plans to start offering engineering classes soon. She says her students figured out how to “utilize the electricity released by photosynthesis in algae to power electronic devices.”

Calhoun says students are using the algae battery to power small devices like phones, but they “could be scaled up easily for much grander energy possibilities.”

Culinary teacher Corsino says he’s equally proud of HHS students who’ve been exploring and competing in new SkillsUSA tracks like “emergency medical technician” and “crime scene investigation.” Although the high school doesn’t offer instruction in those fields, Corsino says kids have been receiving hands-on training from experts in the community. It’s “new and exciting for the students,” he says, “and a point of pride for the chapter that we can reach out and support areas we do not teach at HHS.”

In general, the education system “doesn’t do enough to inform students about what’s out there as far as careers go,” Corsino says. “We have to show them what’s possible.” But from there, he says, it’s up to them: “They gotta go do the thing.”

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Simone Wilson was born and raised in Healdsburg, CA, where she was the editor of the Healdsburg High School Hound's Bark. She has since worked as a local journalist for publications in San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City and the Middle East. Simone is now a senior product manager and staff writer for the Healdsburg Tribune.


  1. Love all articles about our local youths’ interests and achievements.

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