DECA: Events for kids with special needs interested in pursuing business

March 14, 2020

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Nafessa Jaigirdar

Hugo Kim ('19) enjoys his win after the DECA State Award Ceremony.

This past week over eighteen thousand high school students, advisors, businesspeople and alumni gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta to partake in the 2018 International Career Development Conference, better known as the DECA Nationals Competition.

The stadium was packed with students; music boomed throughout the convention center and the excitement and passion of the students radiated throughout the air.

With hundreds of competitions and events offered, DECA is one of the largest high school business competitions in the nation.

As such a large organization, they make a conscious effort to cater events towards students with autism and with learning disabilities, so as best prepare all students for a future in the business realm.

Currently DECA offers two events, Supermarket Careers & Customer Service events, for any student with an I.E.P, or an individualized educational plan. More often, students competing in these events are tested on human relations, job interview skills, personal selling, sales presentation, operations and retail math.

Though East is yet to have students compete in these events, Cherry Hill West, on the other hand, had 32 students participate in the Functional/Vocational program in this past year alone.

Of these 32 participants, is Hugo Kim (‘19), a seasoned DECA member. At this year’s New Jersey State Competition, Kim received 2nd place overall in the Customer Service event, thereby qualifying for ICDC.

“I feel very excited after make[ing] finals and winning in my event. My favorite part about DECA is making new friends, socializing and hanging out at the hotel,” said Kim shortly after coming back from the awards ceremony.

Kim was very proud of his accomplishments, and rightly so. According to Ms. Bridget Garrity-Bantle, one of the special education teachers at West, preparing for the regional, state and national competitions is a tedious process. All throughout the year, the students work on money math skills and vocabulary terms that are not only applicable to DECA, but to real life jobs. The students also work in the school store and practice interviewing skills with a variety of teachers, so as to best prepare for the new faces and the new people they will meet at competition.

Students prepare for the national DECA competition in Atlanta, Georgia.

The competition process is two-fold. The students first complete an online test involving  giving change, adding up bills, and applying sales tax as well as supermarket & customer service terms such as Gondola, determining needs, bagger, checker, aisles and markdown. At competition, the students complete an interview with a judge. For the Supermarket Careers event, students are asked basic interview questions for the position of a bagger at a food store and are scored based on their answers.  They also complete a timed role-play: bagging groceries. As for the Customer service event, students are likewise interviewing for a position in a department store. For their role play they are asked to sell an item to the judge using the 7 steps of selling. This past year, their challenge was to sell a pair of jeans.

DECA has been such a life changing opportunity not only for Garrity-Bantle, but also for her students.

“DECA has allowed my students to step out of their comfort zones and improve communication skills,” said Garrity-Bantle. “I have seen so much growth with all of my students.  Cheryl Melleby and Evelyn Minutolo [West’s business teachers] have opened their arms to our students and it has made such a difference. The students have gained so much confidence through our DECA program.”

Better so, Garrity-Bantle is confident that this is only the beginning for her students. With already so many state qualifiers and national qualifiers, she cannot wait to see where her students will go from here.

This year’s DECA theme was “to go limitless” and Garrity-Bantle agrees: no other theme better encapsulates all that her students have achieved than the word “limitless.”

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