FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – For Fresno County students, the pandemic brought an abrupt end to most of their extra-curricular activities. Events they look forward to were canceled.

However, teachers involved in Career Technical Education found ways to keep an annual competition alive. The Career Skills Challenge is an event where over 1,000 students from over 40 Central Valley high schools participated. It was a chance to showcase skills learned in such areas as construction, firefighting, robotics.

“The teachers train for it and they train their students for it all year long and it’s for the big day,” said Fresno County Superintendent of Schools’ Anthony Ayerza. “It’s like the Super Bowl.”

This year’s event was all but scrapped, but it was saved by a group of innovative teachers wanting to give their students a bit of normalcy.

“We sent out an email to all teachers within our industry in our sports medicine pathway and I said I really want to do this for the students,” said sports medicine teacher Cortney Avery. “I don’t know who’s going to be involved or who wants to be a part of it or who can do it but I want to do something for the students.”

Avery, a teacher at Central High East came up with a way for her students to compete and test their skills. The teachers came up with their own scoring system – and it wasn’t a Zoom event, something her students seem to appreciate.

“It just makes something to look forward to,” said student Ashley Ramirez.

Schools where students had not returned to class yet required teachers to think outside the box. For the culinary arts skills competition, a Coalinga High School student’s home kitchen became the test lab.

“I think it takes a lot for kids to put their home environment out there and do their work for their kitchen.”

Everything about this year’s career skills challenge was different. it was held over a two-month period to accommodate schools’ various schedules and only a couple hundred students participated but that wasn’t the focus.

For the teachers, it wasn’t about the competition and testing skills.

“Having them back, having them finally get to look at each other and be in the same room and laugh and talk and act like students again,” said automotive technology instructor Mike Miller.