Not all is bad in New Mexico schools. While many are debating the merits of teacher evaluations and testing, a dedicated group of teachers is preparing motivated students to manage companies, make business decisions, dream up new products and get them to market.
While the University of New Mexico and the city of Albuquerque’s new Innovate ABQ project has found a site and is becoming reality, tomorrow’s entrepreneurs already have been preparing in classrooms and worksites across the state.
With 190,000 members in 3,500 high schools and colleges across every state in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Guam, South Korea, Mexico and Puerto Rico, DECA is an international co-curricular organization that prepares its member students for careers in finance, marketing, entrepreneurship and management. Co-curricular activities support lessons learned in the classroom.
Formerly known as Distributive Education Clubs of America – the term “distributive education” is no longer used so it is now simply known as DECA – the organization was founded in Virginia in 1946 and has been a part of New Mexico education and the business community for more than 50 years.
DECA is a co-curricular career technical student organization, or CTSO, that offers opportunities to supplement the marketing student’s academic learning experience outside of the classroom.
The organization enhances preparation for college and careers by complementing the business marketing education program classes taught by teachers in the classroom. Activities offer students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in the context of real-world business, connecting to communities and participating in competitive events.
Most major high schools in Albuquerque offer the DECA program. Teachers, called advisers, educate students on fundamental topics like customer service, conducting transactions and making change. Other lessons are centered on economics, investing, selling, merchandising promotion, distribution and marketing research.
An integral part of a DECA program is internships. Advisers work with employers to place member students in jobs outside of school. While working at these jobs, they practice the things they learn in DECA.
Students can be found working at amusement centers, such as Hinkle Family Fun Center and Cliff’s, grocery stores, retail stores and restaurants. Others work in dentist offices and perform customer service and clerical tasks for insurance agents, contractors, lawyers and even Sandia National Laboratories.
On-the-job experiences at these worksites may be discussed in class, supporting the business partner. Several times a year, the adviser meets with each employer to discuss performance and growth of the student employee.
What really sells the program is the numbers:
- Eighty percent of DECA members have GPAs above 3.0.
- Ninety percent of DECA members plan to further their studies in marketing, finance, management or become entrepreneurs.
- Thirty-five percent of DECA members are in advanced placement courses, while only 25 percent of all students are in such classes nationwide.
- Thirty-five percent of DECA members graduate from high school with college credits already earned, compared with 23 percent of all students.
Al DerGregorian, the manager at the TJ Maxx on Montgomery and Louisiana NE, says, “DECA students are the ideal employees.”
DECA members can begin their experience as early as the ninth grade by enrolling in a business or marketing course. They can retain their membership in DECA as long as they are actively pursuing courses in the content area. Many members continue in DECA through college with chapters at both UNM and New Mexico State University.
With four semesters of DECA, New Mexico students are not required to take the economics course to graduate. The economics standards are covered thoroughly in the DECA curriculum.
Jhericka Montano, Manzano Class of 2010, is now a UNM student.
“Today I started my first college economics class,” she says, “and I was glad I understood everything the professor was referencing.”
DECA boasts an extensive competitive events program. With the help of local businesses, student members conduct studies and prepare research reports on real businesses, while others prepare business plans and feasibility studies for new products or services they may have created.
Students present these projects at the New Mexico DECA Conference, which this year will take place Feb. 20-23 at the Hotel Albuquerque. Other competitive events include role-play scenarios and job interviews. Judged at the state conference by local business leaders and entrepreneurs, winners are invited to present their projects or compete in role plays at the international level. This year’s international conference is in Atlanta in May.
Students work very hard to earn the chance to participate internationally and travel to a big-city conference to network with national business and university leaders and 16,000 other high-school students in attendance.