Unlike many of his classmates, when North Andover High School (NAHS) junior Brett Kochanski entered high school he didn’t want to just join a club that would be fun for the four years he was there, he wanted something that could help him prepare for the future. So he joined DECA during his freshman year.
DECA is a worldwide organization whose goal is to prepare future entrepreneurs and emerging leaders in the business world. Although it was established in 1946 and has 215,000 members in 3,500 schools worldwide, it is still a seldom-talked about program.
Established just six years ago by Sarah Hickey, NAHS’s DECA program has grown to include a diverse group of students at all levels of involvement. Some students are active in fundraising, hosting and attending member recruitment events, going to leadership conferences throughout the year, and completing community service projects, while others simply take a business class and go to the District Conference in January. Peter Marfione, one of the two DECA advisors and a NAHS business teacher, as well as Kochanski’s varsity hockey coach, says, “We have students that we hardly see in the fall because of sports but then will be very involved in the winter, it is a good program because it fits the needs of each individual student.”
“As far as involvement goes, it varies due to the participation that you would like to have,” says Kochanski, “Myself, I wanted to have a higher role in DECA, so I asked and got selected to be an ambassador for NAHS DECA and basically what I do is work on fundraisers and campaigns within the school for anything to grow the DECA name, as it is still a relatively unknown organization.”
And apparently his efforts have paid off. Marfione says that at 120 students, the NAHS DECA chapter is one of the largest in the state.
According to Kochanski, there is no application process to gain admittance to the program; students just need to complete one Business and Marketing class before signing up with their teachers. The only requirement once they have joined DECA is attendance at the one-day District Conference, where they compete against the other schools in their district for a chance to be invited to the State Conference later in the year.
In Massachusetts, the schools with DECA programs are split into seven districts. NAHS is in District 3 and includes Danvers, Georgetown, and Peabody high schools.
This past year, District 3 had its conference at Merrimack College in Andover. The District Conferences are an all-day competition separated into subcategories, such as sports marketing, merchandising, or restaurant management. Each student that is competing decides which category they would like to compete in. If they are competing in the role-playing section they are given a product to market, either as an individual or as team, and have time to prepare a marketing scheme before they present it to a panel of judges that act as their employers. The students are then evaluated on how well they answer the judges’ questions about their product.
Another part of the competition is a written section in which the student prepares a research paper on a topic featured at the competition beforehand and then presents it to the judges. The winners of these subcategories are then invited to compete at the three-day long State Conference held later in the year, and have a chance to go to Nationals.
This year, the NAHS DECA program had 60 students compete at States and nine at Nationals, where two students placed in the top 10.
Kochanski says his favorite part of DECA is “the real-world experience and the connections that you can make from being a part of [it].”
Daniel Oberlander, the other DECA advisor and a business teacher, agrees with Kochanski. He says that DECA has helped his students get into college, aided by opportunities to speak with representatives from colleges and employers that attend the state conferences. Oberlander says the experience helps them decide what they would like to major in and has even helped some of them get jobs and internships working with the Patriots.
For Kochanski, DECA isn’t just a way to jump-start his future, however. “I’ve made a ton of new friends through the organization,” he says.