Smithville High School’s DECA program is successful in more than competition. Though the students didn’t place in the top 10 to compete in the final round at the DECA International Career Development Conference (ICDC) in Anaheim, California this year, they nevertheless learned quite a bit that will help them in their future careers.
“DECA taught me how to present myself more professionally and to talk more professionally,” said senior Abigail Gregory. “I also gained organizational skills.”
Sophomore Skylar Hunt said she learned how to work on a team.
Hannah Wells learned how to depend on her partner. “I’m very independent,” the junior said.
Most of the students give credit to their DECA teacher Mr. Stewart Burns. “In the beginning, I wasn’t confident, but he got me there,” said Skylar. “He sees so much in me that I can’t see,” said Hannah. “He sees my future better than I can. I never thought I’d be internationally recognized.”
Jillian Marek has changed her after-high school plans due to his influence. “My plan was to go to college, graduate and get a job,” said the senior. “After the impact Mr. Burns has had on me, I want to do more – travel, meet people and have an impact in whatever I end up doing.
However, Mr. Burns gives the credit to the students for their hard work.
And hard work it is. The students gather their team, decide on their topic, research, interview community members, write a 30-page report, and prepare a presentation and practice, practice, practice.
They also give presentations in front of each other and community organizations to gain experience speaking in front of groups, so that they don’t feel nervous in front of the judges.
The students look at DECA competition guidelines and then at local organization or company needs first when choosing their projects.
“Choosing a locally based project is the smartest choice because we’re so different from the others communities,” said Abigail.
According to DECA’s website, the 70-year-old program includes more than 219,000 high school members in 5,000 classrooms in 3,500 schools across the world who prepare for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, management and entrepreneurship.
Smithville High School, though small, consistently places high at district and state, and sends multiple teams to International Competition. In the past 20 years that Mr. Burns has led the program, teams have placed as high as third, with several teams placing high in the last few years.
Junior Maya Dallas says that passion is key. Patrick Nunn added that you have to be able to take constructive criticism.
“DECA is probably the first or second best organization in our high school,” said Abigail. “It makes sure we live up or our expectations. I’m going to miss it.”