TAUNTON — With growing numbers and an increased competitive fervor over the past several years, the Taunton High School DECA Club has made a name for itself not only locally, but also on a state — and even national — level.
Last year, 10 Taunton DECA students earned spots in the International Career Development Conference (known as “nationals”) in Atlanta against tens of thousands of chapter members from schools around the country. This year, more than 25 flew down to Orlando for the event.
Most notably, the club yet again saw two of its members elected to a pool of six statewide Massachusetts DECA officers, who represent the ninth and tenth THS DECA students to serve in the same capacity under Program Director Jesse MacPhail’s tutelage.
“MacPhail is 10 for 10 — he’s now run 10 (students for officer) and got 10 in,” said THS junior Naiche Christophe, one of the students elected as a Massachusetts DECA officer for the upcoming year, the other being Kyle Cardoso.
Christophe was also chosen to serve in a minor capacity on next year’s THS DECA officers board, for which Meaghan DeCouta and Brett Chaves were chosen as president and vice president, respectively.
Among others selected for board positions were Camden Mullen as Vice President of Communications, Cloee Cambra as VP of Training and Hector Aponte and Amy Perez Special Events co-VPs.
According to Christophe, both she and Cardoso were among the few state officer candidates to stick around campaigning in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in Boston in the hours ahead of their election there by a number of DECA voting delegates.
As Massachusetts DECA officers, Christophe and Cardoso will be involved with the development and oversight of chapters around the state.
“The big things I ran on were connectivity and building community. A lot of chapters in Massachusetts aren’t involved as they could be,” said Christophe.
“I want to get more schools involved, especially ones that maybe don’t have advisors that are as involved as Jesse.”
Christophe said that one of the ideas she proposed was to increase the number of DECA “closets” in schools around Massachusetts, using the example of THS school store, the Tiger Shack, and its Little Closet run by supervisor Kristen Sullivan.
This year, the closet provided donated dress clothing to DECA students in need to wear at competitions, as well as everyday clothing, prom dresses and suits for THS students unable to afford their own.
“I took our DECA program as a model to use and see if it would work on a statewide level,” Christophe said.
For their assignment submitted to the states competition about the Tiger Shack and Little Closet, DECA students Ogechia Ariguzo, Ella Serois, Megan Browne, Ty Cali and Al Jercois, earned the chapter a School-Based Enterprise Gold-Level Certification Award for the store, MacPhail said.
Next year, he said the chapter’s goal will be to earn a Gold with the Tiger Den Café.
Another honor THS earned this year came at the hands of VP Mullen, whose commemorative pin design won a contest and was worn by those at this year’s 60th Massachusetts DECA State Career Development Conference, or "states." Mullen earned first place in his categories there.
To advance competitively to the national conference, students must first place high enough in the local “districts” and Massachusetts-wide “states” conferences; this year, THS saw 120 students participate in districts, from which roughly 60 advanced to states.
“This gives their high school careers relevance as they translate to work in the real world and opens up opportunities that they wouldn’t have had if they didn’t take DECA,” said MacPhail.
President DeCouta attended the nationals for a leadership conference and was selected as one of 35 members out of the more than 22,000 DECA students from around the country for a social media team covering the event. She described it as “eye-opening.”
Meaghan’s brother, Austin, graduated this year and during his tenure served as the chapter’s president and vice president in addition to his time last year as a state officer.
The siblings both joined DECA the same year when they were in eighth and ninth grade, respectively.
“It was a big year for us when we joined – we both made it to ‘states,’” she said.
“He’d already taught me a lot and it was really great moment for everyone in my family, especially when he was elected as a state officer.”
Several students who competed in DECA events this year attributed their development as students and individuals to their involvement with the organization.
First-year DECA student and sophomore Harry Singh said he competed in districts this year in the business finance skills category and was tasked with making sales pitches for two mock companies.
“It’s great experience to meet new people. I was really shy before (I joined DECA) and afraid to talk to people, and now I can do it easily," he said.
For her first year in DECA, sophomore Shelby Margie competed in a written category for which she partnered up with the nonprofit Junior Achievement volunteering at Elizabeth Pole Elementary School, teaching second graders about financial literacy.
“I wanted to get into DECA to compete,” she said.
“This year, there was a lot more involvement with members competing, but there are still some people who get discouraged if they don’t place,” said sophomore Shyheim Blue, a three-year THS DECA competitor.
Both DeCouta and MacPhail said that the increase in the numbers of students in the program and those competing this year has further benefited the Taunton chapter’s morale and academic depth.
Still, like Christophe, they feel that there are still plenty of opportunities to get some existing members even more motivated.
“I want to keep getting kids out for competitions, but one of the issues is keeping the general members who choose not to compete just as involved. They think there aren’t any events out there for them,” said DeCouta.
“DECA isn’t all about competing: it’s about getting something out of it and learning skills relevant to what they want to do after school.”
In particular, MacPhail said that the amount of “crossover” among DECA students who are academically involved with other THS departments (such as Tourism and Hospitality, for example) has improved the “quality” of the membership. Support from the school's administration has also helped the program, he said.
“We’re able to do more things to a greater degree with more students, and we’d like to continue growing and growing the chapter,” said MacPhail.
“Taunton High overall has a tremendous amount of programs and an abundance of great teachers who put a lot of time into these kids, and they just rise to the occasion. The valedictorian was a DECA guy. The whole experience is something to be proud of. These kids are quite amazing.”
This year, THS DECA welcomed a new co-director alongside MacPhail and Michael Raposa: Linda Ciccatelli, who previously taught at Stoughton High School and served as the DECA advisor there.
Ciccatelli said that she was already well aware of the successes of Taunton's chapter before she accepted her new position.
“For me as a DECA advisor, I want to help support and grow the program here. I knew Jesse prior to coming to Taunton, but once I came here I realized how well run it is,” she said.
“I’ve been most impressed with how the students are able to independently manage the club — they’re truly acting as if they own a business. That says a lot about them, that with just a little initial guidance they are able to do this all by themselves.”