SWR DECA students gearing up for competition upstate

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River DECA club adviser Melissa Cosgrove has been preparing students for the state championship next week in Rochester.

While learning what to wear — and perhaps more importantly, what not to wear — a group of Shoreham-Wading River High School students are receiving a lesson in finance by selling hot chocolate.

During the winter months, business teacher Melissa Cosgrove is showing 28 students how to dress for job interviews and how to raise money for the Distributive Education Club of America, known as DECA. The national organization promotes business and marketing skills among high school students.

Six DECA students won top awards last month at a regional contest at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, where their skills were tested by either role playing or exams. The group is now preparing for the State Competitive Conference March 5-8 in Rochester.

Students that win the exam category will advance to the national competition in Anaheim, Calif. later this year.

Ms. Cosgrove, who has been DECA adviser at SWR for the past three years, said this is the first time the school has a shot at the national title. In the past, she said, most students had pursued the role playing category. In May, the DECA club plans to participate in a Career Day event at Six Flags in Jackson, N.J.

“The popularity of DECA has grown because it gives kids a fun opportunity to look at the real world,” she said.

Ms. Cosgrove’s students have been selling hot chocolate during their lunch periods and at community events to help offset transportation costs. She said she’s been pleased with their dedication and focus.

For example, one student found a way to maximize sales by offering a cup of marshmallows for 25 cents to those who wanted a snack instead of a beverage.

“They were walking around the cafeteria and approaching students they normally wouldn’t talk to,” Ms. Cosgrove said. “It helps kids to come out of their shell.”

DECA secretary Anne Bryant, a junior who shared fourth place with classmate Jillian Rossin in the Buying & Merchandising Management competition, said she enjoys the business club because it has taught her the ins and outs of a professional environment.

“It’s given me a little taste of the real world,” she said. “This is the first time an experience has opened my eyes to want to do more.”

In 2010, just two years after Shoreham-Wading River High School created a DECA chapter, the Board of Education almost cut the program from the budget. It was ultimately saved after a DECA student persuaded the school board to spare the club by explaining how it had prepared him for a career in finance.

Other North Fork high schools with active DECA clubs are Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold and Greenport. Riverhead High School hasn’t had a DECA club for the past few years.

For students on the fence about joining DECA, Anne said her advice is to be proactive by talking to other students involved in the club.

“Just try it,” she said. “Some people are afraid to. They don’t understand it. I didn’t understand at first either, but after I hit the competition and met other professionals I became motivated to learn more about business.”

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