While some after-school activities are used as space fillers for high school students’ resumes, the DECA club provides real-life experiences that will better prepare business students for their adult lives.
“It provides an experience you cannot get anywhere else,” Seneca High School DECA Club Advisor Grace McCloskey said. “Some kids are great athletes, some kids are great in the classroom. The DECA experience really gives kids the opportunity to practice world life skills you are going to need in any line of employment. Whether it’s communication or problem solving, it gives everybody a unique experience.”
DECA is a national organization that students in only marketing and business classes are able to join.
There are 180,000 members worldwide, 8,000 in New Jersey.
The club is one that is available to students at both the high school and the college level. In fact, former Seneca DECA members who wanted to continue to pursue the advantages the club provides created a chapter of their own at James Madison University.
The Seneca DECA group is a special one that has grown immensely since it began the year after the school opened.
Being a former DECA member at Shawnee High School, McCloskey saw the opportunity as a no brainer when she joined Seneca 11 years ago. She started the program from scratch with 12 students in her first group and has steadily grown the program over the years.
The program now has 127 members who are reaping the benefits of real-life experiences that further prepare them as emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.
Seneca’s DECA Club has established a tradition of excellence that is further proven by the recent release of state qualifiers. Forty-seven of the club’s 127 students qualified for state competition.
Each student is given the opportunity to choose the level of competition in which they are best suited to participate. They compete in numerous leadership events and charitable and civic consciousness activities as a team or as individuals.
Individual competition consists of studying what they are learning in a specific class followed by a 100-question test in which they are given the opportunity to place higher than other students in their region.
Another option DECA students are presented with is the process of writing a research paper.
“This year, we’re doing more papers than we’ve ever done,” McCloskey said.
The students choose a local company and are given a different subject to observe each year through their experiences with the organization. This year, the students were instructed to focus on engagement programs, so they identified any concerns with employees the owner might have then developed a 30-page research study that concluded with a recommendation for the company to follow.
Fifteen Seneca students wrote papers worthy of state qualification this year. The rest of the qualifiers showed an even split, with 16 in the individual category and 16 in the team category. These students will be participating in the overnight State Leadership Conference at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill from Feb. 24–26.
“We basically bring 12,000 kids together and the students participate in role plays and case studies in front of judges,” McCloskey said.
State qualifiers who finish in the top three of their respective category at this competition will compete at the national competition held in Nashville, Tenn.
On top of their competition projects, these students are also expected to participate in leadership activities throughout the year as part of their responsibility as a Seneca DECA member. All officers are required to fill a leadership role at the high school during the school year.
The students partake in conferences in which they listen to motivational speakers and are given the opportunity to get involved with team-building activities. The Seneca students also choose to get involved in a lot of civic consciousness programs.
“Every year, we have kids that are interested in great causes, but these kids are really dedicated to what is needed. I think that’s what makes them better leaders, to be honest,” McCloskey said.
The group recently raised money for the Operation Shoebox New Jersey, which sends packages overseas to service men and women from New Jersey. Right now, they are selling roses to benefit the Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation. All profits made from the selling of these roses will be donated directly to the New Jersey-based organization that helps teenagers with cancer.
McCloskey gets her group involved in causes such as this to preach integrity to them. Regardless of where they might end up, with the skills they develop in DECA, the group advisor always ensures her students stay true to themselves.
“Maintain your integrity with who you are. A lot of times, kids think they have to be what you want them to be and they lose themselves. Don’t lose sight of who you are,” she said.