TUPELO • Four students involved in the early childhood education program through the Career and Technical Center at Tupelo High School have placed first in the state FCCLA competition and are now participating in the national competition in California.

The students are part of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, which is a nonprofit national career and technical organization for students in family and consumer science programs at public and private schools through the 12th grade.

Of 14 total students, four students – Alijah Peggan, Stephen Bailey, Adam Kendrick and Qua Upshaw – placed first in the state competition this year. The students are all athletes, including two football players.

The three male first place winners completed an illustrated talk comparing issues that were important to their age group and older age groups.

Tupelo FCCLA Club sponsor Natasha Richey said the students are part of the early childhood education program through the Career and Technical Center at Tupelo High School. This is a two-year program in which students begin studying their sophomore or junior year to be prepared for jobs in education.

Richey is a teacher and said all of her students participate in the competition as part of the early childhood education program. She said the program teaches students leadership, community service, public speaking and citizenship.

Richey said the students who come through her program at the Career and Technical come in with big dreams to be lawyers or doctors, but she said it helps when teachers notice students’ talents and encourage them to pursue what they are good at.

“Once they come into my program, I see all kinds of skills come out, I see the student that is great with their hands, I see the teacher, I see the coach, I see it all," Richey said.

Alijah Peggan worked as a teacher aide for Richey during her senior year at the high school. Peggan received a Fuller scholarship to attend The University of Southern Mississippi. Her project at the competition was to do a career investigation about being a teacher.

The 17-year-old said she has always known she loved teaching. 

"When I was in fourth grade, I decided I wanted to be a teacher, but when I got to high school, I understood what it was like to be a teacher, what type of teacher I wanted to be," Peggan said.

From working at the Boys & Girls Club, Peggan realized she wanted to work kids between the ages of six and 12, so she realized she liked working with younger children the best.

Peggan said she is excited about the national competition in California, although she has never flown in a plane before.

"I don't know what to expect. I'm a little nervous, and I think it's going to be tougher than the state competition but I'm just optimistic about it," Peggan said. 

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