Warren earns silver at nationals | News, Sports, Jobs

SECOND-PLACE FINISH — Wintersville resident Karlee Warren represented Ohio at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America’s National Leadership Conference. This year’s conference was held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Warren competed in the category of early childhood education. She achieved a second-place finish, earning a silver medal. There were approximately 100 students in her category, according to program officials.
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It was the week of Independence Day. Approximately 8,000 people filled the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

They had come from all across America. From Texas to Florida. New York to California. Puerto Rico to Minnesota.

They were there to compete. Most had shown up as a team, having that strong support system within their tight-knit group of three, four and five members.

But for Karlee Warren, there wasn’t another classmate at her side. There wasn’t another student to share in the workload. She didn’t have that dynamic support others were blessed with walking into that convention center.

She took on her competition alone.

REVIEWING FOR STATE — Rebecca Kelley, left, an early childhood education instructor at the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, recently had one of her students, Karlee Warren, achieve second place at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America’s National Leadership Conference held in Denver.
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As Denver’s National Leadership Conference got underway the week of July 2-6, Warren found herself surrounded by 7,900 student members, advisers and their guests.

Fortunately, she had the emotional and physical support of her parents, Mike and Beth Warren, alongside her.

The Wintersville couple made the trip to Colorado with their daughter, offering her their never-failing encouragement every step of the way. They attended the competition in place of Karlee’s teacher, Rebecca Kelley, who was unable to attend this year’s event.

Kelley is the instructor of the early childhood education course at the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School. She has taught juniors and seniors for the past 12 years, having had one other student advance in a national competition.

So, how did Warren come to represent Ohio in a national competition? What did she have to achieve along the way to earn her rightful place on that convention center’s stage?

REMEMBERING A FRIEND — Prior to presenting her lesson plan for 3-5 year olds as her competition at this year’s National Leadership Conference in Denver, Karlee Warren of Wintersville found a ruler among the items she had brought. The ruler was from former Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla Sr., who Warren considered to be like an uncle.
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It did not come easy. The road to nationals took time and encompassed a thought-process that would engage and capture the attention of children — not an easy task by any means. Just ask a parent.

The umbrella under which the competition took place was for those in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. The name was changed over the years and used to be known as the Future Homemakers of America.

Members in the FCCLA acquire insight and the necessary skills to obtain employment in the 21st century. They can select from more than 50 events that employ skills and knowledge learned through family and consumer sciences education.

Competitions included those in the culinary arts field, early childhood education and public speaking.

Kelley explained Warren’s road to the nationals first started within the JVS. Winners then advance to the regional Spotlight on Skills competition, which takes place annually at the Coshocton County Career Center. The top 10 in each region move on to state competition in Columbus. From there, two winners are usually selected to move on to nationals. However, in Warren’s category, only the first-place finisher was to advance to the national level.

Warren obtained that gold.

But how would she fare when competing against one or two representatives from each state in the nation, including Puerto Rico? How would she place among approximately 100 competitors?

She was somewhat nervous as she entered the room where eight judges sat before her. She was allowed to choose an age category for which her presentation would be created.

Warren was then given 20 minutes to leave the room and create a presentation to fit the age range she had chosen.

She opted to go with 3-5-year-olds, since that is who she is most familiar working with on a daily basis at the JVS through its daycare program, where students help watch and teach the children Monday through Thursdays, five hours a day.

The trouble was, this wasn’t something she could have prepared for. She was being given 20 minutes to come up with an entire presentation — deciding on an assignment for those 3-5 year-olds, physically making the objects that would coincided with that assignment and preparing a speech which included the step-by-step process of why she chose her lesson plan.

Twenty minutes. She began by forming her lesson plan. This plan would have to be a developmentally-appropriate lesson plan for children 3, 4 and 5 years of age. It had to be a STEM project, meaning science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Warren chose to create marshmallow men. She had to make them adorable enough the children would want to play with them and learn from them. She would then add new marshmallow men or take away the objects in order to teach children the fundamentals of adding and subtracting. She had to create a lesson plan to accommodate those who are deaf, blind or who have autism.

“For deaf people, we of course do sign language,” Warren said. “And for blind children we do hand-over-hand. For those with autism we have a tablet or poppit which is like a Fidget toy. And you have to allow for breaks.”

All of this had to be incorporated into her presentation, as well.

And building the miniature winter objects took both creativity and imagination. She was allowed to use only the materials she had brought with her. And not knowing what she would be doing for her presentation, she had packed everything she could think of into a tote in order to be able to use those 20 minutes wisely and efficiently.

Warren’s tote included: Scissors, markers, coffee filters, marshmallows, pipe cleaners and tons of other materials a child would work with during an art project.

She created snowmen with two eyes, a carrot nose and a mouth. She placed baby powder on the marshmallows so they wouldn’t be sticky when the children handled them.

And when the time came to announce the winners in the early childhood education competition, Warren received a second-place finish along with a silver medal.

Having come in second in a field of 100 was truly an honor for the recently-graduated senior from the Jefferson County Christian School.

What’s more, Warren is the first student to ever attend the JVS from the Christian school, according to her parents.

“Working with children is her passion,” Beth and Mike explained. But the school never had the partnership with the JVS prior to Warren’s wanting to transfer and complete her last two years learning about early childhood education. So the school formed a partnership with the vocational school, making way for others to also have the chance to learn a technical trade while earning their education. And for others to have an instructor like Kelley in which to learn from.

“Although I wasn’t able to travel with her, I was with her in spirit every step of the way,” Kelley stated. “I am so glad I got to know Karlee, Mike and Beth. They have become more like my family.”

Beth stated Kelley was in constant communication with the family and it was as if the teacher was right there with her, encouraging her and offering her as much support as possible.

Warren said she does not like to speak in public. She is very standoffish when it comes to having to get up before others and talk extemporaneously. Another individual who doesn’t like to public speak, according to Warren, is current Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla Jr.

The two have been friends since Karlee was little, she said. She noted her mother was in the law enforcement field and she was often babysat by those at the station.

Warren recounted the time Abdalla addressed the students at JVS about its upcoming homecoming dance, telling them about the dangers of drinking and making sure to make the right decisions during the dance. She said he looked at her the entire time he was onstage because he doesn’t like to publicly speak. She noted he stared at her in order to make him more comfortable during his presentation.

After he concluded his address before the students, school officials called Warren aside and asked in all seriousness to the sheriff, “Is there something we should know about her?”

Warren and Abdalla both offered a laugh and explained the situation that the two were good friends and he was using her as a comforting point in which to focus.

Warren then joked he owed her one. She wanted that raincheck to be him taking a trip to Denver while she presented her speech.

Although Abdalla wasn’t able to attend the national convention, Karlee did come across something which made her think of Abdalla and his father, the late Fred Abdalla Sr.

The night before she was to present her lesson plan, she was looking at the materials she had brought in her tote, as she had to decorate the tote as part of her challenge. While doing so, she found amidst the belongings a ruler which read something along the lines of, “Don’t do drugs,” Warren said. It had been given to her by the former Sheriff Abdalla, who died in 2022.

“So it was like Fred was right there with me,” she said. “He was like an uncle to me and it just meant a lot when I found it among the things I had brought.”

Karlee’s favorite moment in Denver wasn’t the silver medal. It wasn’t the wonderful food she and her family had eaten, or the exciting arcades and selfie stations she and her family attended. Nor was it the tremendous impact she felt from being able to feed many of the homeless people who lined the streets of Denver ­– a moment that touched her and her parent’s hearts. Her best memory is feeding a squirrel she named Frederick.

“There was this squirrel by our hotel and he ended up just eating out of my hand,” she recalled. “I fed him strawberries and bananas. At first I would throw out the food to him. And then I would feed him closer and closer and then I tried just putting out my hand and he came right up to me and allowed me to feed him.”

Once in a while it isn’t the big moments we will cherish and remember the most. It’s the little things. Like feeding a squirrel, which makes life all the more beautiful. Just ask the Warrens.

They are grateful for having the opportunity to go to Denver. They appreciate all of the support their community gave them after finding out their daughter was going to nationals and representing Ohio. And they are grateful to Kelley for having taught their daughter and how she treats her students as if they are her own.

“She (Kelley) has had such an impact on Karlee’s life,” Beth said. “She and everyone at the JVS, I can not say enough wonderful things about them. They are about fostering relationships. They identify a student’s talents and their gifts and put them where they need to be to succeed. And the early childhood program works as a team. It is such an encouraging atmosphere for education and a simulated work environment.”

“Ms. Kelley is my favorite teacher,” Karlee said, adding she has had a positive impact in her life. “She is like a second mom to me and a mentor. She’s the one I look up to because she taught me how to be the best teacher I can possibly be and has truly built up my self-esteem.”

Upon their return home, the Jefferson County commissioners presented Warren with a proclamation during their meeting. She then received a proclamation from state Rep. Ron Ferguson, R — Wintersville.

Karlee hopes to one day become an elementary school teacher. Currently, she works six days a week, gaining hands-on experience as a paid intern at the Children’s Academy.

She babysits and runs the nursery at her church. She plans to attend Eastern Gateway Community College in the fall, majoring in of course, teacher’s education.

“It’s been such a great experience to know the JVS is creating our future workforce,” Beth concluded. “We are just so blessed to have them in our community.”

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