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East County TSA clubs turn to technology

Virtual meetings are key to keeping Technology Student Associations alive during pandemic.

Braden River High School seniors Trey deCarle, Jackson Galvin and Griffin Hudson work on a Technology Student Association project. Courtesy photo.
Braden River High School seniors Trey deCarle, Jackson Galvin and Griffin Hudson work on a Technology Student Association project. Courtesy photo.
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When Braden River High School’s Technology Student Association met at the beginning of the school year in the past, dozens of students would fill a classroom to break down into teams and figure out who would participate in what competition.

This year, the first meeting Sept. 2 looked different.

About 50 students logged into a virtual meeting on Microsoft Teams as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Mark Patula, a TSA adviser at Braden River High, said the pandemic isn’t going to stop the club from working toward a 10th consecutive state TSA championship. 

“This year we’re hoping to beat our [best] total of first, second and third place trophies, and we're going to take teams to nationals,” Patula said.

Much like the rest of school, TSA will hold some competitions virtually and clubs will have to adjust the way they meet and work on projects to abide by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and School District of Manatee County guidelines.

“At first, me and a couple advisers talked about how TSA is going to be difficult to have, but we realized pretty fast these kids need this,” Patula said. “I can’t tell you how many kids came up to me and asked if we are going to have TSA. Even though they have their masks on, you can tell they’re super excited and pumped. A lot of kids come to Braden River for TSA.”

Although students could be on campus full-time, participating in the hybrid schedule or doing e-learning, all students are able to participate in clubs and school activities.

Many clubs will meet virtually until they have their small teams set for the different competition categories. Then they’ll meet in person and follow CDC guidelines.

Some competition categories, such as debating technological issues and the technology bowl, are written competitions rather than actually building something, so students can work virtually instead of meeting in person.

“We have to have a paper trail of student charts and a paper trail of who is working with whom for small teams,” Patula said.

Sonia Ala, a TSA adviser at Braden River Middle School, said recruitment is down for TSA this year possibly because students are in different learning modalities. Within the first three weeks of school, Ala receives between 60 and 75 applications, but this year she’s received 20.

She’s moved the application online, and the club’s officers are promoting the club at school and online with fliers, posters and announcements.

Meeting virtually has created opportunities, according to Lakewood Ranch High TSA adviser Ben Long. He said virtual meetings have given the club an opportunity to develop an online communication platform.

“We’ve always been trying to push a digital sharing platform on Microsoft with them,” Long said. “This allows us to move into the digital age. It’s a way for me to be a facilitator and not have to be in the room.”

Using Microsoft Teams, the clubs are able to set up individual platforms for each team, so they can work together virtually.

“It’s going to be extremely different,” Long said. “It’s going to be a learning curve.”

No matter the challenges, Long, Patula and Ala agreed having TSA in the midst of the pandemic is crucial because it provides stability and a sense of normalcy for students, and it prepares them for their future.

“In my opinion, TSA is the most real thing on this campus,” Long said. “It’s problem-solving. It’s engineering. The kids that come out of here are leaps and bounds ahead of other students as far as communicating with adults and other kids, working on a team and knowing your place on a production team.”


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