Coronavirus Derails Competition For VHS Business Students


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Verona High School DECA students at the state competition earlier this month: (l-r) Austin Frank, Meaghan Elliott, James McHugh, Evan Silvia, Timothy Gavin. Elliott and Silvia were to have gone on to DECA’s championship in April before it was cancelled by the outbreak of COVID-19.

For the first time in six years, a team from the Verona High School business education program DECA recently qualified for the International Career Development Conference (ICDC). But Evan Silvia and Meaghan Elliott won’t be heading to Nashville next month for that competition. It’s been cancelled by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

DECA, formerly known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America, prepares young business minds and entrepreneurs for the world of marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. Its purpose is to help students hone an interest in business and offer fun, challenging experiences to explore various industries and career paths. To be a member, students must have had at least one business education course on their transcript.

This year, VHS’ DECA chapter consists of 30 students, competing in teams of two and as individuals. This was the first year of participation for Silvia and Elliott, and both showed an interest in the travel industry, and they created the Travel & Tourism Marketing Management Team Decision Making. Overall, there are 15 categories for students to choose from, such as apparel, sports, and tourism. The program operates under the supervision of business education teachers Angela Salisbury and Pamela Burke.

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During the early winter months, Elliott and Silvia spent time learning more about their chosen industry and the global impact that business has. Initially, students must take a written exam in December to gauge how much expertise they have in their chosen area of study. While this test is not critical to moving onto actual competitions, it does contribute to a team or individual’s score in the first competition.

On January 2, Verona DECA traveled to Kean University to engage in DECA’s Regional competition. At it, students are given a fictional prompt about their topic and they have 30 minutes to devise a solution to the scenario, known as role play. Finally, they get 15 minutes to present their concept to a judge who has real-life experience or a career in the given field. A team or individual’s total score comprises half the written exam and half the role play.

Silvia and Elliott placed first in their category in role play. Silvia says that while he was not thrilled with his test score prior to Regionals, placing first in the role play there greatly enhanced their final score.

“We kept trying to take what we learned from each round and take it to the next level to improve,“ Silvia says. “Our tactics included creativity and combining tourism to our interests, such as art to create business cards and statistics to justify examples.”

Silvia and Elliott placed sixth overall for the Travel and Tourism category at Regionals, which meant they advanced to the New Jersey State DECA Competition at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City on March 4. They were two of the nine VHS students who qualified for the state tournament.

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With competition growing fierce, Silvia and Elliott had to take another written exam of 100 multiple-choice questions before heading to the State competition, but this time, with higher stakes. They both scored over 70%, and were awarded the Certified Guest Services Professionals Award for their achievements. Other VHS winners of this award included Austin Frank representing Hotel and Lodging Management and Jimmy McHugh representing Restaurant and Food Service Management.

“We both took a marketing class taught by Mrs. Salisbury, which I think greatly helped our test results,” Silvia explains. “Being exposed to business in the classroom setting helped me apply the skills I learned.”

At the States competition, the same competition style follows, and after the first round of role play, the sum of the written exam and role play determines whether or not a team or individual moves on to the second round of role play; only the top eight are able to compete for a second round of role play. Once again, Silvia and Elliott amazed Salisbury and Burke, as well as themselves, when they qualified for the second round.

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“My favorite part about the States competition was getting to the role play phase, especially with a partner,” Elliott shares. “Together, we were able to experience a real business interaction, but there were no real strings attached. It was a fun way to get professional experience.”

The top six teams or individuals after the second round of role play move on to the ICDC, the final tournament. Elliott and Silvia’s teamwork was edged out by a sliver as they placed seventh. Proud and disappointed all at once, they soon learned that one of the teams dropped out, so they suddenly qualified for ICDC. With shock and excitement, Elliott and Silvia got ready to begin packing their bags for the tournament, which was to have been held in late April. The event would have brought 10,000 DECA students to Nashville, and offer introductions to colleges and their programs.

They are disappointed by the cancellation but eager to see where the lessons they learned from DECA take them. Elliott will enter her freshman year of college this fall, and she intends to study graphic design. “This season in DECA, I learned leadership and teamwork, and it helped me build confidence in my ideas,” she says. “That caliber of creativity will bring me far in a career for graphic design.”

On the other hand, Silvia is wrapping up his junior year of high school and has many interests, but explains that DECA has taught him much more than he imagined. “It is fun to embody a different persona in the competition and apply our own business ideas to the role play,” he says. “I know this fun experience in business will help me when I begin a career someday.”

Salisbury sincerely enjoys being an advisor to the club since 2012 and looks forward each year to see her students’ growth throughout the season. “It really shows kids how to step out of their comfort zone,” she says, “be personable, interact on a mature level, and help show how valuable business education classes can be to their future.”

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