Although the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic scuttled chances of showcasing skills on a national level, Pickerington High School North multimedia program students stood out among their peers this school year.

It has become something of an expectation for students taking part in the two-year multimedia course at the high school, offered through Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools, that they perform well in regional and state competitions.

And each year a number of students qualify to present projects at the Business Professionals of America National Leadership Conference.

Going into this year Doug Rider, who teaches the course at North, had students qualify for the national conference 14 of the past 16 years.

This year, the conference was scheduled for May 6 to 10 in Washington, D.C., but the pandemic forced its cancellation.

It also forced changes to the Ohio Business Professionals of America state conference, originally slated for March 12 in Columbus. It was held virtually April 20 to 24.

Despite the challenges, Rider's students again stood out while exhibiting their skills in categories ranging from website design and video production, to digital graphic design and entrepreneurship.

Fourteen of Rider's students this year qualified to compete at the national conference. That runs the string of national qualifiers from the North multimedia class to 15 of the past 17 years.

"Each year, students in multimedia spend months preparing for contests sponsored by Business Professionals of America," Rider said. "These contests help them to apply their skills in website design, video production, animation, graphic design, presentation-making, etc. ... all the things they are learning about in multimedia, which is the two-year satellite program offered at PHS North by Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools.

"We were all geared up to compete on March 12, but the state conference was canceled two days before we could compete in person. BPA continued the competitions virtually, allowing students to present their work by using Zoom calls."

Rider said he was disappointed his students would not get the chance to compete on a national stage, but their dedication to their projects, in the face of adversity, made this year special

North had two state champion teams crowned through the virtual competition.

One was the video-production team that last year won a national championship. The team members were North seniors Enrique Cabotage, Matt Ferguson and Justen Turner and Canal Winchester High School senior Julien Martinez.

They created a promotional video for Tyler's Light, a Pickerington-based nonprofit organization that seeks to provide substance-abuse prevention, education and treatment resources to the region.

"When I heard the news that we would present through a call, I was stressed because I had to operate the slideshow, and I didn't know how well that would play out virtually," Cabotage said. "But, as we practiced more and more, I began to feel comfortable (and) while competing and presenting, it felt like nothing had changed.

"We wanted to show the realities of addiction through a narrative route but also show that there are great organizations like Tyler's Light available to help and make the needed difference."

Cabotage said the state recognition qualified the team for the national competition, had it been held.

"Coming off of a national championship last year, we were eager to return and try to go back-to-back," he said. "I was really disappointed to see that there wasn't going to be a national conference – not only because we couldn't compete but because of the missed opportunities to make memories with some of my best friends.

"The BPA National Leadership Conference is a great time in and out of the presentation room, and it was something we were all looking forward to."

The website design team also qualified for nationals. That team included North juniors Isabella Floyd, Nathan Ohrman, Eliana Rider and Ani Watts, who created a website with information about how to build a bio-friendly home.

"I wasn't even sure the state competition would happen, so I was actually really happy to be able to follow through with it and get some closure," Rider said. "My team stayed after school, came in early and came in over Christmas break, so we were really happy to get rewarded for all of our hard work.

"It's ironic that this year (the Pickerington multimedia program) had more national qualifiers than ever before. My team was really hopeful to make it to nationals way back when we first started the project, so it was a bit of a letdown for us. But we're already excited and hopeful for next year."

Website-design team members said their efforts included practicing their presentation via Zoom and learning tricks to make it more smooth.

"Personally, I felt a little life stressed because I didn't have visual (contact)," Floyd said. "So, it was harder to read my teammates.

"Body language and visual cues (are) something I feel we relied on a lot before we had to use Zoom."

Floyd and Ohrman said reaching nationals had been a goal since the beginning of the school year.

Floyd said not being able to compete at nationals was a "huge letdown," but Ohrman didn't dwell on it.

"I honestly am not too upset," Ohrman said. "Being able to work on the project with my group members was an amazing experience, and I'm so proud of everything we have been able to do this year.

"I'm so grateful for everything we have done this year, and hopefully, we will be able to compete in Orlando next year."

Watts said despite the disappointment of nationals, competing online was valuable.

"The experience it gave us to adapt and change ... is something that I will be eternally grateful for," Watts said. "My team put so much sweat and tears into our project, and to be able to see the result of our hard work was just so incredible."

Other national qualifiers included a presentation management team of juniors Ian Fisher, Isabelle Lynch, Emily Piekenbrock and Caroline Rowell, which was a state runner-up.

They researched and delivered a presentation about the value of building a positive company culture and how that can impact a business' success.

Additionally, juniors Garret Cox and Teddi Heberle finished second and third in the state, respectively, in web design. They also qualified for the national conference.

Others who performed well at the state competition, Rider said, were senior, Kayla Solon, who placed fifth in entrepreneurship, and the computer-animation team of juniors Caroline Harrington and Anna Glanzman, who placed sixth.

"I am so proud of all of these students who competed," Rider said. "They could have thrown in the towel and pouted about the conferences being canceled. They doubled down and continued to work together and never once complained about the situation."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate