[Courtesy Photo]

Ellie Burton, a rising sophomore at Grand County High School, spent countless hours in Golda Pflugrad’s classroom during the school year. A student of interior design, Burton designed, cut, pasted and drew floor plans for a hypothetical family — one that wanted individual workspaces and an updated master bedroom in their home — to create a project design board.

“I did this project as a class assignment, but then my teacher came up to me and told me that she wanted to enter it in the regional competition. I thought, ‘whatever, no big deal,” Burton told the Moab Sun News. Little did she know that she would go on to place in regional and state interior design competitions held by Family, Career and Community Leaders of America — and visit Nashville, Tenn. to compete in nationals.

FCCLA is a career and technical student organization for young men and women interested in family and consumer sciences with over 182,000 members nationally. Members learn about and participate in competitions for food and nutrition, interior design, fashion, teaching as a profession and more. Pflugrad teaches such courses at Grand County High School.

“It’s about training new leaders through the family consumer science classes. It’s amazing for students to learn leadership skills, and it’s a student-led program,” said Pflugrad. With her first year at GCHS under her belt, Pflugrad looks forward to taking the program to new heights. “It’s amazing what the students here have at their fingertips,” she continued.

Burton and fellow classmates Jacelyn Shumway and London Neisen placed silver at the FCCLA regional interior design competition in January. Shumway and Burton went on to place silver at the state competition, with Burton winning 2nd place overall. Burton’s win at state won her the chance to compete at the national level; she and Shumway will travel to Nashville this week to participate in several workshops and presentations focused on leadership skills before Burton learns her placement the first week of July.

“I’m waiting on my results for nationals, and it’s really nerve-wracking,” said Burton. The project design board she submitted included a floor plan, material samples, a 2D drawing of each room and a hypothetical client invoice. In GCHS’s interior design course, Pflugrad taught Burton and her classmates the foundations of interior design, how to draw floor plans, color theory and more. Pflugrad’s interior design class even had the opportunity to redesign the high school’s teachers’ lounge for their final project: “The transformation was amazing, and I’m looking for more hands-on projects like that, because I believe that’s where the greatest learning happens,” said Pflugrad.

Judges at each level offered Burton advice on how to improve her work before she moved to the next competition: “They gave me feedback on the colors I used and told me to straighten up my cuts and update my floor plan to scale. Little details like that made a huge difference.” Burton and her classmates also had to give speeches about their work to the judges, which they took videos of and submitted since the competitions happened virtually.

“Watching them record their speeches, from the first to the last recording, I saw such a difference. You could see the confidence they gained; giving the speech was hard the first time, then it became less and less hard,” said Pflugrad about her students’ progress. “They themselves recognized their progress and growth. Come senior year, what are they going to be like?”

Headed to Nashville, Burton, Shumway and Pflugrad look forward to one of the year’s only in-person events.

“Honestly, even though I was competing against my friends that were also competing from my high school, I really liked working with them, because we could use each other’s feedback and work with each other to make each of our projects better,” said Burton about preparing for the competition. “I really liked working with them and with my teacher because everybody was super supportive.”

Pflugrad sees her mentorship of students like Burton, Shumway and Neison as a “reward” as well. In turn, Burton has discovered perhaps a lifelong passion in interior design, and looks forward to competing in FCCLA competitions throughout the rest of her high school career.

“Since I was little, I’ve downloaded apps on my phone about interior design,” Burton said. “I never noticed that I had a strong interest in it until I took this interior design course.”

“Now,” Burton said, “I’ve realized that this is what I want to do.”