By Debra Roberts, Contributing Writer
Worcester – Thanks to a hard-working teacher, Zbysia Giegucz of Northborough’s Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS), the Jan.10 District 7 DECA Conference at the DCU Center in Worcester included a “Life Skills” version of the competition with participants from various schools’ special education programs. Thirty-seven DECA Life Skills students, including 11 from ARHS, competed in a business role-playing challenge similar to ones assigned to their peers. Approximately 700 DECA students attended the conference, nearly 200 of them from ARHS.
DECA, a business leadership organization for students, has 225,000 members around the globe with roughly 7,000 from Massachusetts. The DECA Club at ARHS was established in 1987 by former Northborough/Southborough superintendent Christine Johnson, who was an ARHS business teacher at the time.
The current advisor is ARHS business teacher Patricia Riley, who has been involved with the club for 15 years. She has grown it to a whopping 305 participants, the second largest chapter in Massachusetts. One hundred eighteen of her DECA students will be headed to the State conference in Boston at the end of February.
Beyond the competitive aspect, Riley noted, “Every single person who participates will get something out of it.” In a recent ARHS DECA video she stated, “DECA is an organization that is not just preparing them [her students] for the business world. It is preparing them for life.”
Life skills are often a key component of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for special needs students, as many of them struggle in this area. Riley approached Giegucz four years ago to start a Life Skills DECA club after she learned about one at another school.
Giegucz, who teaches Nutrition and Culinary Arts as well as Urban Gardening, jumped at the opportunity. She has grown the club over the last four years, encouraging other schools in District 7 to participate. At the conference, students from four other schools participated in the Life Skills role play assignment developed by Giegucz.
The theme she chose this year was hospitality. Students were able to select a category of Sports and Entertainment Promotion, Theme Park Marketing, Concert Promotion, or Restaurant Hospitality for their challenge.
One of the students, Sofia Roumiantsev, chose Sports and Entertainment Promotion with partner Alexis Sokoloff.
“I enjoy doing DECA because it gives me something fun to do at school and at the same time prepares me for adult life and responsibilities, Roumiantsev said. “For example, for the competition my friend Alexis and I made a poster on a made-up basketball team, Charlotte Celtics of North Carolina, that included a team game schedule and games ticket pricing. I like DECA because it is a fun way to learn about business and interact with your friends.”
At an award ceremony held after the competition, some of the loudest applause of the afternoon was for ARHS Life Skills DECA student William Iverson.
Iverson’s friend Luke Osetek noted, “Everyone at Algonquin who I am connected with loves Will. He is a cheerful, outgoing, and comedic young man who you can always find making other people smile at Algonquin. He has grown to become a leader, role model, and friend to all at Algonquin.”
Giegucz, who is head coach of Unified Basketball, had chosen Iverson to be captain of the team this year. She agreed with Osetek’s sentiment and noted that his leadership skills had grown so much this year.
She’s seen all of her students’ confidence grow through the DECA Life Skills program.
“They have so much potential,” she said. “There is no limit.”
Her next project for DECA Life Skills is a dinner theater event, “Once Upon a Murder,” to be held Friday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. in the ARHS cafeteria. Her culinary students will prepare the food and both DECA and DECA Life Skills students will participate in all other aspects of the event including acting, advertising, and preparing raffle baskets. Tickets are $25 and available until Monday, Feb. 3, in the ARHS main office or by emailing [email protected].