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Technology students 'strive to be the best,' finish better than imagined

By Johnny Jackson

In recent years, the Riverdale High School Technology Student Association has seemingly repainted the walls of its technology center. Signed banners and several dozen trophies and awards embellish the already colorful room.

TSA is a national, non-profit organization serving thousands of middle and high school students who are interested in technology. Each year students compete in various technological disciplines in state and national competitions.

Last spring, the Riverdale High School TSA chapter added a state title banner to its collection of wall art. But Lovejoy and Mt. Zion high schools are fast on pace to join them.

The three schools - Riverdale, Lovejoy, and Mt. Zion - placed first, third and sixth, respectively in the Georgia TSA Conference, as TSA's Outstanding High School Chapters.

"We've always had a real good showing by Clayton County," said Gayle Silvey, Georgia TSA coordinator. "It's an impressive showing."

"This is the best placement in the history of the school," said John Kirby, Mount Zion High School TSA advisor. "All 11 students who attended the conference received a finalist award or trophy for their efforts. This is outstanding. I look forward to a new exciting year with them; we had an amazing time last year."

Several students from the Riverdale chapter expressed their shock and awe about winning the Georgia TSA Conference title but none was shy about telling the amount of work and devotion it took to achieve their accomplishment.

"I had a great time. I've never experienced anything like it," said Abu Barrie, a member of the Riverdale High School TSA. "We were all shocked that we did so well."

"I think we performed pretty well at the national level. For us, it was a really great accomplishment," said Jonathan Saethang, Riverdale High School TSA president. Steve Price, the Riverdale High School TSA advisor, said he nicknamed Saethang "The Franchise" for his intelligence and humility.

"There's no best all-around, but we looked like we were really into ourselves," said Sara Roth, Riverdale High School TSA sergeant-at-arms. "We were just surprised."

"I think it was a really grueling three days," Saethang said about the National TSA Conference in Chicago. "By the end, it was a really fulfilling experience."

"We did not expect to win the Georgia TSA Conference," said Teng Phour, Riverdale High School TSA reporter.

"We were happy," Saethang interjected.

"That was an understatement," Phour said, evidence enough in a posted list of yearly goals, reading "perform well at nationals." Phour pointed out Zich Tran, a first-time participant at the TSA conferences.

"My experience - truthfully, I took it for granted," Tran reflected. "I learned to be more responsible."

"What she's trying to say is that there's a lot that goes into preparing for the conference," Saethang said in amusement.

"It teaches you life skills, that if you want to succeed, then you have to work hard," Phour said.

Harsh Patel, a member of the Riverdale High School TSA, said that working four hours after school, weekends and late nights were not uncommon commitments.

"People ask me how I do this stuff," Price said. "And my answer is, 'I don't.' My kids run my organization."

Price received the National TSA Advisor of the Year Award, his second straight year, and recently became the first teacher to be elected president of the National TSA Board of Directors.

While their Lovejoy chapter received accolades as the High School Chapter of Excellence, Lovejoy TSA advisors Tim and Christie Schmitt both received the Tommy Pitchford Inspirational High School Teacher of the Year Award.

"It's really a great feeling because of what it means, that we're really there for the students," said Tim Schmitt, who will also be a member of the 2005-06 TSA Advisory Council. "My wife and I have our own fortes. She plans, researches and sets ground rules. I'm the problem-solver. But it's more about being here for the students. It's really about the students."

"The students did it for us with their determination to work," Christie Schmitt said. "They're very determined and interested - extremely motivated and focused. We have Saturdays that they'll come up and work the entire day on projects. They strive to be the best."

"It's an honor, but more than that, it's a reflection of my kids on me," Price said. "I'm technical support, counselor, and advisor. But it means more to me to see those kids succeed. Kids thrive on recognition," he said. "And this community needs to know these kids are still in our schools. They are some awesome kids, a credit to this community."