Recently, Rafael Hernandez, a student with a disability at Slawson Southeast Occupational Center, made the bold choice to put his abilities to the test and compete in the statewide SkillsUSA competition held in Ontario, California. Rafael believed the competition would be the perfect way to “show that I am learning and show my skills” and even though he knew it would not be easy, he knew his support system could help him reach his goals.
Rafael had always enjoyed learning about cars by watching YouTube videos on car restoration and maintenance; and as a child, he worked well with his hands, solving building block puzzles with ease. His mother, his biggest supporter, made the connection between the two and helped him find the right vocational path to kick-start his career. With her encouragement, Rafael enrolled in the Automotive Program at Slawson Southeast Occupational Center.
Mr. Saidi, the program’s automotive instructor, became aware of the many barriers students face in the classroom and connected Rafael to the school’s Disability Support Services (DSS) Advisor for accommodations and support. Soon after working with the DSS Advisor, and having an accommodation plan in place for Rafael, Mr. Saidi offered Rafael the chance to compete in Skills USA, an organization that host state and national competitions for students in career and technical programs to display their skills and earn recognition for their skills. At the end of the competition, Rafael was in disbelief when he heard his named called as the gold medal winner in his category.
Rafael remembers thinking that he was not going to win, but was very happy and excited when he did. Rafael learned a very important lesson from his experience in this competition, he says, “It is good to be afraid, but you can push your fear until you get what you want, this competition was a good opportunity to show my skills, that I can do it despite being a student with a disability.”
Rafael is currently competing at the 2023 SkillsUSA Championships in Atlanta, Georgia.