North Fork students excel at DECA competition


Job interviews can be nerve-wracking, but they’re a challenge local students who belong to the Distributive Education Club of America enjoy tackling head-on. 

The students, who represent high schools in Mattituck, Southold, Greenport and Shelter Island, also don’t flinch when it comes to taking multiple-choice exams and participating in role play scenarios that test their abilities in fields like advertising, marketing, hospitality, sales and business administration.

“Every competition is so different,” said Kathy Williams, Southold High School’s DECA adviser. “So it’s not a blanket explanation … It’s just kind of fun and exciting.” 

In addition to being able to choose the categories in which they compete, students are given flexibility about how they role play.

Southold High School junior Connor Vaccariello, for instance, walked into the judging panel at the recent state competition and delivered his required four-to-six minute public speaking speech in the form of a song — guitar and all.

Other students created billboards to market products and public services, while some pitched the sale of popular products like iPads, soccer balls and hover boards. Still others completed job interviews or aced 100-question multiple-choice exams.

Nineteen students from Southold and seven from Mattituck participated in DECA’s 56th annual state competition, which was held in Rochester in early March. Of those, 13 — three from Mattituck and 10 from Southold — placed toward the top.

“We always do really well,” Ms. Williams said. “We’re very, very lucky. We have kids who work hard and come from great families.”

The Greenport and Shelter Island DECA clubs, which are newer advised by Martha Tuthill, attended the regional competition, which was held in January at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. They hope to make their first appearance at states next year.

Honors secured by Mattituck High School students on display. (Credit: Courtesy photo)
Honors secured by Mattituck High School students on display. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

Shoreham-Wading River High School sent 16 students to the state competition, 10 of whom placed. Of those, two participants — senior Bobby Torres and junior Melissa Manzello — came in first and second in their respective events and will head to DECA’s national competition in Nashville later this month.

DECA is an after-school program with 3,500 high school chapters in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guam, Germany, Spain and China. According to the organization’s website, it aims to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for the future.

LuAnne Nappe, who has advised Mattituck High School’s DECA club for the past 15 years, said underclassmen and new members often participate in only the test portion of the competition because they’re too nervous to role play. Easing into the process, she said, gives them a “feel for what DECA is.”

All three local advisers agreed that upperclassmen members determine what subjects they’re interested in and try to align them with one of their strengths.

“A lot of times I’ll find students who I feel are good,” Ms. Williams said. “I go to a play and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, that kid would be great in public speaking’ because he’s an actor on the stage. I will be like, ‘You know what, you’d be really good at this, you’d be really good at that.’ ”

In order to prepare for competitions, members began taking practice exams and role playing early in the school year.

DECA grows each year. Currently, 133 students participate at Mattituck High School — 32 of whom joined this year alone. Meanwhile, the club has 77 members in Southold, 30 in Greenport and 13 on Shelter Island.

No matter how members place at competitions, educators agreed the experience is beneficial — even if students have no plans to study business following graduation.

“It really gives them important skills, no matter what career they’re going into,” Ms. Nappe said. “They learn about business, public speaking, how to dress for success, being able to speak to an employer — they get all those kinds of skills.”

Top caption: Mattituck High School DECA students. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

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