Laramie High School’s DECA club, or Distributive Education Clubs of America, works to prepare high school students to be future business leaders. The group participates in marketing competitions to build professional communication skills, performs community service and provides students with opportunities to connect with local businesses.
Julie Masters, LHS chapter advisor for DECA, said the club competes by demonstrating various employable skills that aren’t directly related to one specific career field over the other, including interview skills, public speaking and problem solving.
“I think it provides them an opportunity to gain the soft skills that are really what employers are looking more for these days,” Masters said. “Because jobs and careers are changing so rapidly, in a lot of areas they’re just looking for those employability skills and communication skills.”
Ben Taboga, LHS DECA chapter officer and Wyoming DECA president, said the competitions focus heavily on interview and communication skills.
“When we compete, we go and sit in front of a judge,” Taboga said. “Naturally, you develop the ability to talk to someone one on one. Also, it really helps with public speaking. I’ve seen a lot of kids in the organization develop exceptionally as public speakers and in terms of confidence speaking to other people.”
He added the students in DECA practice about every two weeks, focusing on interview skills and practicing test questions from the exam each competitor must take as part of their overall competition score. The students compete in at least three competitions throughout the year, Taboga said, including one at the University of Wyoming and a state competition, with the state finalists going on to the national competition in April in Orlando, Florida.
Masters said she was excited about the group’s competition results so far, with LHS students winning first place in five of 12 events at an event earlier in November at Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Masters added the chapter’s success at Scottsbluff was one step towards one of their goals, which is to become a more nationally-recognized team.
“They are very highly motivated and excel academically in their activities, so most of them really are working to achieve national ranking in their events in nationals,” Masters said. “Their big goal is to not only win at state, but to be able to compete on a national stage.”
The Laramie City Council issued a proclamation during its regular meeting Nov. 20 to declare November 2018 as DECA month in the city. The proclamation said DECA “assists in the development of academically prepared, community-oriented, professional, responsible and experienced leaders” and is a great way to “prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs.”
Taboga said the proclamation was a great opportunity for the LHS chapter to market itself.
“Ironically, as a marketing organization, DECA doesn’t do a very good job at marketing itself,” Taboga said. “We really want to increase awareness in the community about what we do and how we can help different people. Although it’s a high school and college organization, we also have heavy involvement from community members who help judge our competitions, and we get donations when we go to the national competition.”
DECA has had a chapter at LHS for over 60 years, and many students want to continue their DECA journey after high school. Luckily, there is also a collegiate DECA group at the University of Wyoming. Masters said UW is a national sponsor for DECA, and although the competition there is considered more like practice for the new members to learn the ropes, there are still valuable opportunities.
“It was more of a beginning competition to instruct them and to connect them with Laramie businesses,” Masters said. “We had the kids meet the collegiate DECA members and understand how they can participate in the group in the future at UW. These kids are the future business leaders of Wyoming, and of course the UW has an interest in having them attending there.”
More than just a business-centered group, both Masters and Toboga said DECA also directly impacts Laramie with their acts of community service, including a Safe Treat Trunk or Treat event on Halloween and smaller events, like food drives or visits to Hospice of Laramie.
“We think that community service is an essential part for developing a well-rounded individual,” Toboga said when he accepted DECA’s proclamation at City Council.
Masters said the group works heavily on their relationship with the Laramie Main Street Alliance and other groups in Laramie to keep students connected to their communities.
“I think it’s really important for people to join the organization because it does help to develop some of those real-world skills that you might not find in other organizations,” Toboga said. “It really is oriented towards helping people develop into community-oriented adults.”