While bearing down and creating responses to the hypothetical challenges thrown their way by judges in a statewide business contest, Old Rochester Regional High School students Ryu Huynh-Aoyama and Eddie Gonet felt no pressure.
They were in Boston with 19 other ORR students to compete, but that was a fact to celebrate because creating the Tri-Town high school’s DECA program was the real test that they had already passed to make the appearance in Boston possible.
“It was an excellent experience; it felt so great to be there,” said Gonet. “I wasn’t too stressed out about it. I didn’t expect much because it was (the first year for ORR).”
Gonet, a 15-year-old sophomore, took second place in his individual category at the state competition held among 500 students on February 27-29 at the Prudential Center. Huynh-Aoyama had a better score in district competition in Hyannis than he had in Boston, but the opportunity to take this test was gravy.
“In the end, I was more proud of our chapter as a whole… it was our maiden voyage, the first year. We did well despite not having the proper (background). That was something I was really proud to see in my chapter,” said Huynh-Aoyama. “To go to states you must be in the top seven in your category. Internationals it’s top five. Logistically, a lot of (competitors) get cut off that way. In all honestly, I don’t have any regrets.”
The greater challenge for this partnership was in getting ORR’s DECA chapter off the ground.
Originally known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America, the international organization DECA is now a major extracurricular at ORR with 50 strong filling advisor Alyssa Whitney’s homeroom on Fridays after school.
“For me what’s really cool is I teach chemistry so I see them in all of my classes, I always see them in that sort of setting and situations so it’s been really cool to see that same set of kids… moving into something completely different,” said Whitney. “The cool thing about DECA is they have categories they can pick… real interests. entrepreneurship, social media marketing, fashion. It lets me know my students a little bit better.”
Behind the football team, marching band and drama club, Whitney estimates that the crowd packing her homeroom for DECA meetings ranks “like a close number four. It’s a good thing that I have a giant classroom,” she said.
Coming to Old Rochester after a year teaching in East Boston, Whitney had familiarity with DECA via her boyfriend, ORR graduate Casey McKenzie, who had participated in DECA while attending UMass Dartmouth.
There were students that Gonet and Huynh-Aoyama had gotten interested in the club that were in Whitney’s homeroom.
“Even though we don’t have business classes, ORR has other classes that helped prepare them as well,” said Whitney. “Even though they didn’t take finance or marketing, they were able to do so well at the other skills that they have.”
Before coronavirus precautions led to the cancellation of extracurricular activities and ultimately school altogether, Whitney met with the DECA group every Friday after school. In her second year as advisor, Whitney was joined by colleague Beth Trout.
Garnering that advisory support did not come easily to Huynh-Aoyama, a senior who had been trying to get DECA started since he was a freshman. Having grown up in Wareham and expecting to join a well-established DECA chapter, Huynh-Aoyama’s family moved to Mattapoisett when he was in sixth grade.
“I was a bit disappointed,” he said, knowing even then that ORR did not have the DECA program. “It’s a great school – don’t get me wrong, but it’s still a small school and because of that we don’t have the business set that most schools offer.”
Huynh-Aoyama spent his freshman year trying to find support.
“I was a bit discouraged at first so I was slowly reaching out to my friends in other schools… how they started DECA,” he said. “I learned that originally I was doing it alone, solo. I needed a team.
“Teamwork leads to teamwork. It was my junior year that I came across Eddie… the ball started to roll.”
Now they are DECA co-founders and co-presidents.
A Fairhaven resident, Gonet was looking for a high school with a business program and his choice came down to Bishop Stang and ORR. Despite not having a business program, ORR won out.
“When I got there Ryu approached me. Ryu said, ‘Eddie, I’ve been trying to start a DECA here, but I haven’t been very successful,'” Gonet recalled.
Teamwork was their answer,
Initially, near the end of the 2018-19 school year, before ORR’s DECA chapter had become official, Huynh-Aoyama had a meeting with ORR Principal Mike Devoll and Superintendent of Schools Doug White.
They needed members, and they needed an advisor. Once the latter was in place, the growth of the former has been steady.
“In all honesty, there isn’t an exact moment, but I feel like over time (we) slowly built up more members,” said Huynh-Aoyama.”Junior year we had a lot of people interested. ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, would you like to do it?'”
The answer was often yes.
Huynh-Aoyama and Gonet made it a mission to educate their classmates and, by word of mouth, slowly spread the message throughout the hallways.
DECA sells itself at this point.
“We’re always looking for new members, but ever since the start, our focus has always been on teaching the members we have,” said Huynh-Aoyama. “We ourselves, it’s our current members who do the marketing of DECA for us. It’s a business lesson to itself. I feel like in so much business if you focus on what we’re doing.”
What they are doing is real-world type things, addressing problems and challenges, finding solutions, collaborating and learning how the real world works.
Those tasks may be the kind that make tycoons or the kind that help manage everyday life handling personal finances.
“The students in the program – no one knows what is a credit score, how to do taxes or anything like that. We don’t have a personal finances course. That’s why we wanted to start DECA for students to have,” said Gonet.
Competition is often part of the real business world so the contests, while a fun activity for the fledgling group, is an important facet. For Gonet, the state competition was a dress rehearsal for things he expects to do after education.
“You wait in a line – they give you a certain time to be there – then you go into a room, they give you an event situation,” he explained.
The subject was business administration and management, and the question was about the importance of professional development and why a business should implement it. Gonet had 10 minutes to prepare a response.
“In the competition, when you’re talking to the judge, it’s like a job interview or a typical day on the job,” said Gonet, emphasizing the importance of things like an introductory handshake. “One time the judge had a cast on (his hand) and I didn’t know what to do so I shook his cast. He really liked that.”
There was a mini awards session on Friday, February 28, and a larger presentation on Saturday, February 29.
Two-thirds of a school’s score was determined by performance in two role-play situations, and a 100-question business exam taken at ORR determined the other third.
Gonet, Mary Butler and Teddy Carroll were among ORR students whose state-competition performances qualified them for international competition that was to be hosted this year by Nashville, Tennessee, before the coronavirus outbreak canceled the continuing competition.
School closure due to the coronavirus will also postpone “Cause Day,” which was scheduled for Friday, April 3. The scenic event held in 19 different tents on the high school track gives students 18 different charities to raise money in the community for donations.
“The nice thing about this is it’s all about choice,” said Gonet, alluding to local, regional and worldwide charities. DECA planned to participate in the event, in which all involved students wear the color symbolizing their chosen charity.
Gonet says DECA had told the ORR chapter it is on a five-year pilot program. “We’ll give you five years to get one class at ORR. I’m not quite confident, but I think they’ll extend the deadline,” he said.
Had international competition been held, Huynh-Aoyama would not have taken up his invitation, having given it over to a younger student that could benefit more greatly from the training at the event.
His dream job is to, “start my own business and build something of my own. I want to create something that can help other people as well. I feel like DECA is my prototype.”
Huynh-Aoyama’s dream for ORR is a business curriculum. “From this year onward, I strongly feel that the current DECA members in our chapters will be able to initiate and start those business classes,” he said.
Told he has created a monster, Huynh-Aoyama answered, “hopefully one that outlasts me.”
By Mick Colageo