SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - South Plainfield High School’s DECA chapter was implemented at the start of the 2014-2015 school year and, at the March 18 board of education meeting, members of the not-for-profit organization and their co-advisor Kayla Bryant were on hand to discuss the program’s progress and success.

Previously known as Delta Epsilon Chi and Distributive Education Clubs of America, DECA is an international association of high school and college students and serves to ‘prepare emerging leaders to be college and career ready,’ in the areas of marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and service. The organization, which was established in 1943, is one of 10 organizations listed as Career and Technical Student Organizations by the United States Department of Education, and also encourages members to engage in regular community service.

There are currently more than 200,000 members in 3,500 high schools across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, China, Germany, Guam, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain. Close to 8,000 students in New Jersey are involved with DECA, making the state the 10th most popular of all 50 states in terms of membership, yet it wasn’t until the 2014-2015 school year that South Plainfield High School began offering the program.

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“I was surprised when I came to South Plainfield High School and found out it was not offered,” said Bryant, who came to the district in 2013 and was a DECA member when she attended North Brunswick Township High School. “I remember joking and saying I wanted to be DECA advisor when I grew up [and] here was my chance.”

Together, with the support of school and district administrators, Bryant (English) and co-advisor Kelly Butrico (business) worked to form the South Plainfield DECA chapter. The program was officially implemented at the end of September 2014 and meetings began in early October with the chapter’s formal initiation ceremony taking place in December.

“Even as a former member, I never realized just how much work is involved in running a DECA chapter. At first, the kids weren’t really sure of their roles  – and neither was I – but they quickly adapted and began to take charge,” said Bryant, adding, “All of the kids have been great, and our chapter officers have been doing an amazing job helping me every chance they get. Also, Dr. Pederson and our building administrators have been very supportive of our program and that has been a great help.”

Currently, the South Plainfield chapter of DECA has 24 active members and is open to all students 9th through 12th grade. Involvement in the program enables students to be creative learn new things, meet new people and travel to different places but also enables students to gain important life skills, including but not limited to, public speaking, problem solving, the importance of team work, the event planning process, and organizational skills.

Additionally, DECA allows students to learn across the curriculum as typical projects require them to incorporate math (to calculate expenditures and profits) and English (using rubrics to write 11-30 page mini business papers to describe their projects) along with social studies and economics (providing research and rationale for determining target markets and how they will reach them based on past behaviors), among other subject areas, into all they do.

DECA members take part in various competitions and conferences throughout the year and, since regional conferences are held at local colleges – in Central Jersey they take place at Kean University – students are provided the opportunity to network, take part in college tours and experience campus life when they are not competing.

In January, members of the South Plainfield High School DECA Chapter competed at their first Regional Conference at Kean with members Ryan Berardi (Quick Service Restaurant Management) and Ruben Torres (Retail Merchandising) becoming the chapter’s first-ever winners when they placed in the Top 10 of their respective events. Additionally, Ruben was also named a ‘Top 3 Performer’ for ‘Role Play #1.’

Last month, 11 members of the South Plainfield attended the State Career Development Conference in Cherry Hill. This time, the team of Pooja Patel and Alexandria Frontz were named ‘Top 10 Finalists‘ in the ‘Learn & Earn Event’ and were also the recipients of the ‘Chapter Community Award’ for spearheading South Plainfield High School’s Community Service Project; through the project, DECA members sold paper ‘dog tags’ for The Seeing Eye, an organization that trains seeing eye dogs with the purpose of enhancing the independence of the blind and visually impaired. As a result of Frontz and Patel’s efforts, the chapter raised more than $600, donating three times the state association’s suggested donation amount.

Additionally, at the February conference, DECA members Alyssa Soto and Tatiana Ishod received the ‘Chapter Activities Award” for their ‘Chapter Awards Book’ project – a creative collection of summaries, data, promotional activities, and pictures outlining the chapter’s various activity throughout the year. The award also earned South Plainfield bragging rights as the only first year school’s to achieve ‘Gold Level’ status.

Frontz, Ishod, Patel and Soto all qualified to attend DECA’s International Career Development Conference (ICDC), which will take place next month in Orland, FL. There, they will be enrolled in the prestigious Ignite! Academy and engage in various team building and leadership exercises alongside members from chapters all over the United States and the world.

According to Bryant, the winter months are the height of the competition season and most members of South Plainfield’s DECA program stayed after school every day by choice to work on their projects, design chapter materials and brainstorm for future fundraisers.

“I have already seen a positive change in several of our members as they exert more confidence in completing tasks and presentations and understand what it means to be professional,” said Bryant. “The best part about DECA is the myriad of important life skills the students are picking up without even realizing.”

Members of South Plainfield High School’s DECA Chapter include: Jacinda Anderson, Ryan Berardi, Alejandro Cepeda, Maryaim Elmajdouli, Alexandria Frontz, Kayla Greenleaf, Zackary Gorman, Joseph Lanzetta, Carly Micelli, Adanna Ibeku, Tatiana Ishod, Lavan Jackson, James Joyner, Amaya Moore, Sahith Nagireddy, Sam Owens, Pooja Patel, Cole Petersen, Danaysha Samuel, Amanda Soden, Alyssa Soto, Zion Spears, Ruben Torres and Dayanna Velasco.