NAUGATUCK — Students in Naugatuck High School’s DECA program are preparing to bring their marketing skills to the state level.
On Feb. 25, Naugatuck High students will present their projects at DECA’s State Career Development Conference at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
“You can either do an essay and a role-play or you can do a project that accompanies a paper. What we’re working on is finding new marketing strategies and coming up with ways to promote local businesses and promote local organizations and incorporate the community and school,” junior Kevin Okifo said.
There are about 40 different categories students can compete in at the state competition. This year, 24 NHS students will present 12 different projects.
The dozen projects is the most NHS teacher and DECA advisor Tim Reilly has seen Naugatuck High enter into the state competition. He said the DECA program has grown significantly over recent years.
“I think the program has sort of taken a life of its own and, over the last few years, I have had a lot more AP honors students taking the courses and joining up for DECA,” Reilly said.
Reilly also thinks the events that DECA puts on, such as the annual Rip the Runway fashion show, attracts students to the program.
“They’ve heard from their friends and kids who graduated how great the program is and they just want to be part of it,” Reilly said.
Junior Alexus Coney said she has heard about DECA program since her freshman year and got involved as soon as she could.
“Before we even started we heard about Mr. Reilly and DECA and the projects they were doing. It sounded like great thing to do,” Coney said.
Okifo heard about the program from his older sister, Faith, who was a member.
“I think the biggest motivator for me was that my older sister was in DECA and she competed and won first place at states in her category. It just seemed like a fun experience and a big learning experience. You learn all these things in marketing, but you really get insights when you go to the businesses and are implementing all these things you are learning in class. It just feels like it’s taking it to another level,” Okifo said.
The 12 projects that NHS students are working on all require the students to work with local businesses and organizations to incorporate a marketing plan.
“Every project has an aspect that forces you to incorporate the community in what you’re working on. It also makes your project a lot easier if you can work with local businesses or local organizations. The first step is to look at your surroundings and what is going on in your town, such as restaurants that you think may need new markets or need help getting their name out there,” junior Heyi Cheng said.
Cheng, Okifo, and junior Michael Huzior are working together on a creative marketing project with the Tequila Grill in Naugatuck. The group hosted “Freezin’ for a Reason” Saturday at the restaurant. The event featured a fundraiser for the Pan-Mass Challenge, which raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. During that time, the group handed out surveys and will use the data collected to develop a marketing plan for the restaurant. The purpose of the project is to improve revenue for the business and help the community.
For Coney’s hospitality and tourism operations research project, she is helping Buffalo Wild Wings in Waterbury reach an underserved market — children ages 5 to 13. She’s working on how the restaurant could become a destination for that market without marketing directly towards them since the restaurant’s prime function is a sports bar.
Some students are taking on international marketing.
For their project, seniors Sarika Cho and Imani Webb and junior Alexandra Silva are working with Yo-Crunch, a yogurt production company in Naugatuck, to create a hypothetical international business plan to open a market in Singapore.
Courtney Morin and Tathiana Serrano are working with Naugatuck Head Start and School Readiness to promote the program. The program, which is based at Central Avenue Preschool, provides early education to children from low-income families and family development services.
“As a former Head Start student, I know that my early education was so important, and positively affected my learning. In addition I can see now the importance of the Head Start program for the development of important social skills as well,” Morin said.
As part of their project, the two students worked with Tabitha Green from Calvary Chapel Naugatuck to coordinate “A Shoebox Christmas” in December. The event provided decorated shoeboxes full of gifts for the students in Head Start and created awareness for the program. Donations were collected from the faculty and staff at the high school for the event.
Morin and Serrano also created social media accounts to further promote Head Start. They also met with NHS Vice Principal Eileen Mezzo to get her perspective and insight on the program.
The final piece of their project is a faculty-wide survey to gauge the level of understanding amongst faculty and their perspective on Head Start. The results of the survey will be presented at the state competition.
“Education to me is the most valuable resource for each and every citizen. Having done extensive demographic research for this project, I now fully understand the importance of the Head Start program here in Naugatuck,” Serrano said. “It is essential that the children coming from lower socioeconomic families must have the same opportunities to start their educational experiences as those from more affluent families.”
If a project places in the top three of its category at the state competition, the students will advance to the national competition in April in Orlando, Fla. Ten winners are brought on stage at the national competition from each category and the top three winners are announced.
Naugatuck DECA’s goal is to be standing on that stage, Coney said.
“I haven’t had anybody in the top 10 yet. It’s very difficult to win at nationals. The numbers are against you,” Reilly said.
While the national competition is the goal, over the next month the students will be focusing on perfecting their projects for the state competition.
Reilly said the students’ chances of placing at the state competition will be determined by how much work they put into their projects. However, he’s optimistic.
“I like our odds this year,” Reilly said