Meet Kristal McCathern, Carl Perkins Community Service Award finalist

Meet Kristal McCathern, winner of the ACTE Region IV Carl Perkins Community Service Award. McCathern’s interview appears as part of a spotlight series on our 2021 national award winners and finalists. The Carl Perkins Community Service Award recognizes individuals who have used CTE to make a significant impact on their community and demonstrated leadership in programs and activities that promote student involvement in community service.

What is your job title and what do you do?

I am a master instructor for cosmetology at Southern Oklahoma Technology Center. Students enrolled in my cosmetology include a mix of juniors and seniors in high school as well as adults. I provide opportunities for my students to build their technical skills, while strengthening their social-emotional skills.

What was your education experience like? What did you study?

I acquired my cosmetology license as a high school senior in a privately owned cosmetology school. Then, after working in the industry for two years, I continued my education and became licensed as a master instructor. I worked in a private school for 12 years and a community college in Texas for another five years. My choice to work in career and technical education (CTE) turned out to be a butterfly moment.

I became empowered to build my leadership skills and to achieve a degree in CTE. I not only reached the goal of my bachelor’s degree, but I am also now the proud owner of two master’s degrees, one in educational leadership and the other in school counseling.

Please discuss the role of community service in your life.

My parents are the most giving people. They have always taught me to serve others. Coming to SouthernTech nine years ago presented the perfect opportunity to share my servanthood with my students. At that time, the cosmetology program did not participate in much community service.

I contacted local nursing homes to offer our services, and they were very welcoming! We now serve two nursing homes in our community. This opportunity has taught my students more than servanthood. It has built their social skills, and they have learned to communicate with the residents. My students and myself also serve at the Ardmore Soup Kitchen quarterly.

On a personal level, I love working with hospice patients and their families to offer comfort.

Please describe your most meaningful community service project.

The most meaningful community service project was Hope for Ardmore. The community came together to offer wellness checks, dental checks and haircuts for people without homes. Ten students attend this event on a Saturday. This experience left a tremendous impact on my students. The knowledge they gained that day was more valuable than anything I could ever teach them. I watched as their compassion, congruency and empathy came to life.

How has COVID-19 affected CTE program activities in your school/ district?

The pandemic has caused us to cease all direct contact with our nursing home clients. My students have made “miss you” cards for the residents to let them know they are thinking of them during these horrible times. Our director very generously allowed my students two mannequins, since they are missing out on direct contact with clients.

In what innovative ways have you engaged students to remain connected with their communities while social distancing?

Serving as the SkillsUSA campus adviser this year has been very challenging. At the first of every school year, we have a SkillsUSA team-building day. This year, some were a little disheartened about missing it. Two co-teachers and I created a virtual team-building day to engage our SkillsUSA classes. We embedded polls everywhere into our fun Zoom activities. This day was a huge success for all classes; new students felt welcomed and engaged.

We have used Zoom and other virtual platforms for many activities this school year. Our campus officers gave speeches over Zoom and campus-wide elections were conducted on Google Forms. Campus officers have remained in touch with classroom officers for activities concerning Toys for Tots and Ardmore Soup Kitchen. This year has taught students that you can still lead and communicate through different means. You only must be flexible!

Learn more about ACTE’s 2021 national award winners.