Last week nearly 8,000 high school and university students from across the province descended upon the Sheraton Centre in downtown Toronto to take part in the 32nd annual DECA provincial championship, including 30 students from Elmira District Secondary School.
DECA (Developing Excellence Celebrating Achievement) is an international business and marketing organization that encourages students to enter the “real world” beyond simply textbooks and exams by taking part in role-playing exercises, community leadership projects, and international networking. The organization is focused on the business and marketing world, and gives students a taste of what the world outside of school might look like.
The 30 EDSS students who competed in Toronto were among the 40 the school sent to the regional competition in Waterloo back on Nov. 18, a day in which over 1,000 students from across the region wrote multiple-choice exams and performed oral presentations on a broad range of business topics, from hotel management to business and law ethics.
Students were given complex scenarios to work through, such as how to retain the business of an unhappy customer or the best way to expand an existing franchise, and were given between 10 and 30 minutes to prepare before presenting to a judge.
Students also had the opportunity to submit 10- to 30-page business plans for the competition to be critiqued and analyzed by industry experts.
The provincial competition was much of the same as the regional one, but brought students from all across the province together in what some of the students called a “very competitive environment.”
“If you mess up even a little you’re out of there,” said Grade 12 student Graham Colby, who won first place overall at the regional competition in the team category with his partner, Scott Dunbar. The pair also did well at provincials in their oral presentation, but was disqualified for missing the written portion of the competition.
“Everyone else is really competitive, but Scott and I took it as a fun and building experience and we ended up doing well,” Colby added.
Students are judged on their answers to the multiple-choice questions about their topic, their ability to think on their feet when asked questions during the oral presentation, as well as their business etiquette, right down to the colour of their socks. Boys are asked to wear dress pants, a shirt and tie and dress shoes, and the rules explicitly state that white socks and shoes are not permitted.
“The dress code and how you present yourself is very strict because in the real world you won’t be taken very seriously if you don’t look professional, so we are trying to push that,” explained Lori Ossip, communications and public relations officer for DECA. “We are very specific with the length of the skirts and the colour of socks, and for the written paper there are very specific guidelines down to what your headings and table of contents format will be.”
Another Grade 12 student, Emily Ahier, recalled that even after finishing in the top 10 for her oral presentation, she was not permitted to go up on stage to collect her award because her pants were too short.
“You could see my ankles, so I had to stand to the side to get my medallion,” she quipped.
None of the EDSS students scored high enough at the provincial championship to proceed to the international competition in Orlando, Florida from Apr. 28 to May 5, but the students say they certainly developed a lot of new skills thanks to their participation in DECA.
“The skills you develop you can use wherever you go. I’ll definitely take what I’ve learned and use it for job interviews in the future,” said Grade 12 student Mariah Martin.
Club president Rebecca Lomax will be making her way to Orlando for the international conference based on the fact she was awarded a scholarship from DECA for part of her university tuition next year, where she intends to study business.
Lomax encourages younger students to join the club and become active in DECA, even if they don’t plan on taking business or marketing in university or college.
“I really hope that more young kids get involved because we’ve all done it for four years now and you grow in so many different aspects, not just in your communication skills but even writing in a room filled with 1,000 other kids, and you’re not going to get that experience in any other club.”