MHS Students prepare for international DECA Competition

Arielle Kahn, Anthony Vizy, Olivia Goldwater and David Alpert state champions at the SCDC. Photo by Janice Skalaban

The Marblehead DECA program is preparing to send four state champions to compete in the International Career Development Conference (ICDC) in Orlando, Florida next month.

At ICDC, more than 22,000 high school students from across the U.S. and other countries will compete to take cluster exams and role-play at the international level. It is a major competition for DECA, an international student association focused on developing emerging entrepreneurs and business leaders.

“Whether it’s knowing how to present yourself in a professional business environment or learning how to think on your feet and speak with confidence, I believe DECA teaches important skills early on, giving you a competitive edge in your career as it prepares you to go into an adult business environment with confidence and knowledge,” said Maddie Cole, a Marblehead High School (MHS) student and state champion.

Students from Marblehead DECA became state champions at the State Career Development Conference (SCDC) this year.

Anthony Vizy, a sophomore at MHS, said being a DECA member has provided him with real-world experience.

“I am very happy that I chose to join DECA and I look forward to pursuing a career in business,” said Vizy.

To prepare for the international competition, students are reviewing the role-play, presentation, and quiz bowl practices they used to prepare for district and state competitions.

“There isn’t much time between states and internationals. Now the students are self-studying the material in their respective competitive areas and taking practice tests through the DECA+ website,” said Janice Skalaban, MHS business teacher and DECA advisor.

“Through DECA, students acquire skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, public speaking, and creativity,” she added.

To join MHS DECA, students must take at least one business course in high school. They may join DECA if they are enrolled in a class during their current year, even if the course doesn’t run until the second semester.

“That year, I was really worried that I wouldn’t perform well at states and internationals, but I was state champion and an international finalist, so that felt really great because I had been really worried before and I was sad I had missed out my freshman year,” said Cole.

The most gratifying experience for Cole was placing within the top 10 internationally at ICDC last year. At ICDC, there are three rounds of competition: a 100-question test, two initial role-plays, and a final role-play for the top 20 finalists.

To make things more difficult, the category Cole chose was one of the largest. After going through all of that work, Cole felt gratified to get called up in front of over 20,000 people to receive a medal for placing so high.

“It was amazing to see all of that hard work pay off in such a tangible way, and it provided me with an experience I’ll never forget,” Cole said. “While I was proud of getting top 10, It also motivated me to push for more.”

Cole said she is extremely competitive, which leads her to constantly try to achieve more. She said her goal this year is to place in the top three.

For Olivia Goldwater, one of the state champions competing at ICDC from April 22-25, being a member of the DECA program has been one of the most beneficial experiences in her high school years.

“Even if we don’t win internationals, I think just competing at DECA at any level is going to be super beneficial in my career,” Goldwater said. “DECA forces you to think on your feet and adapt to any scenario thrown at you while having to keep it together. There have been tons of times when I didn’t know exactly what I was doing but managed to push through and try to find an alternative solution.”

Goldwater added that DECA had significantly improved her public speaking ability. She said that even for those who are not interested in pursuing a business career, DECA is a very beneficial high school activity.

Over 3,366 students, advisors, and chaperones attended the three-day SCDC. 200 volunteer judges read business reports online or evaluated students in person. There were 20 exhibitors from colleges, DECA partners, vendors, and volunteer workshop presenters, including female entrepreneurs, former DECA members, Ted Talk speakers, financial experts, and a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The most difficult experience about DECA has been the anxiety that leads up to your event. When we are waiting to go into our prep time and role-play, the nerves are very high, as we do not know what to expect,” said Arielle Kahn, an MHS student and state champion. “The most gratifying experience about DECA is winning. It is such a good feeling knowing that all the hard work that you put in paid off in the end.”

Skalaban decided to start the DECA chapter at MHS to generate more interest in business subjects and provide unique learning opportunities for her students. She said the downside is that DECA is very expensive.

Each student pays dues to join Marblehead DECA, but Friends of Marblehead Public Schools is its biggest supporter. Skalaban said Marblehead DECA has used the funds of the Friends Grant to pay part of the registration fees for students.

“There is a limit of three years on the Friends Grant. I applied for one next year, which will be the final year that we are eligible,” said Skalaban. “Local businesses have helped by donating through our Business Partnership Fundraiser. Other fundraisers have taken down the amount we need for hotels, airfare, and shuttle services. The rest of the money needed is provided by the parents.”