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Eagles Continue to Soar Through East’s DECA Program

 East's DECA teacher talks with D60 about the classes she teaches at her school Fittingly, Jacqueline Armenta’s passion for DECA began in the classroom.

First as a high school student.

“I competed in apparel and accessories,” Ms. Armenta said. “And through my experiences in DECA, I was able to become a Colorado state DECA officer during my senior year, and then earn scholarships to go onto college.

“So it definitely helped me, and it’s a program I very much believe in.”

So much so that Ms. Armenta went onto become a marketing educator and DECA sponsor at East High School, where her students have experienced great success in competitions as well as at the collegiate level and beyond.

DECA, part of East’s Career and Technical Education curriculum, is a career and technical student organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

Participants have the opportunity to engage with fellow high schoolers in rigorous competitions designed to test their business knowledge and savvy in such areas as apparel and accessories, automotive management, retail merchandising, hotel and tourism, accounting, and sports and entertainment event management.

“DECA is co-curricular with marketing,” Ms. Armenta explained. “In the marketing class, students learn the contents, and through DECA, they have the experience of competing.”

At East, Ms. Armenta has been able to impart her love for the life-changing program to her students, who annually excel in competitions at the district, state and international levels.

“It’s a program that has come full circle for me,” she said. “And I really believe in it. I had a great experience in DECA: it helped me earn scholarships; it helped me be prepared for college and careers, as well as become a more confident and outgoing person.

“So it’s really an honor for me to now teach marketing and serve as a DECA advisor.”

It is through Pueblo School District 60’s Career and Technical Education offerings that students acquire the skills and ability to become college and career ready.

In the case of DECA, Eagles become proficient in such relevant career skills like public speaking and presentation, creating an impactful resume, and successfully navigating an interview, whether for a scholarship, college admission or a job.

“We can help kids find their first jobs,” Ms. Armenta explained. “We do a career inventory and then give them the skills so that they know how to search for jobs that align with their skill level and what they’re interested in. 

“It’s important for them to have a strong resume, so they can land that interview. And then, display the confidence and interview skills needed to earn that job.”

Experience culled from DECA, whether in organization, time management or public presentation, is a plus employers look for.

“I’ve heard from business owners in Pueblo that they are looking for people with DECA experience,” Ms. Armenta said. “Some of my students out looking for jobs also have told me that they’ve seen the question, ‘Are you, or have you ever been, a DECA member?’ on applications.”

At present, a number of recent DECA alumni are studying at prestigious universities throughout the state and nation.

In today’s business world, where the proper promotion of a product or service is essential for success, the importance of marketing know-how cannot be overstated.

“It’s extremely important,” Ms. Armenta said. “Not only to market a business but for the students to market themselves. And that’s what we teach: whether you are going to college or into a career, to market yourself so you can be ready for success.

“And I’m confident that when they leave this program, they are well prepared for that next step.”

To allow advanced DECA members the opportunity to market and operate a real-life business, Ms. Armenta established a Level 4 class in the form of a coffee enterprise known as the DECA-ccino.

“It allows the students to gain hands-on experience working in a school store,” she explained. “They gain customer service skills by selling coffee and pastries and learn to manage and maintain a business.”

In 2019, 25 Eagles qualified for the state DECA competition, with three earning the right to advance to the ultimately canceled international career development conference in Nashville. That success continued this year, with 18 Eagles advancing to state through a virtual district competition.

Additionally, two students, Evan Smith and Kristen Williams, are in the running for a state DECA position.

Also in 2019, East’s DECA chapter raised the most money, statewide, for Special Olympics, and this year placed second in fundraising for Children’s Hospital.

“East’s DECA is really special because it creates a family community,” Ms. Armenta said. “And I get that from so many of my students. They are able to spend time together and they compete together. 

“And we also spend a lot of time on social activities. In the past, we’ve been able to go to the trampoline park together, to get our jitters out before we compete. We’ve also had bowling nights together. And the students really enjoy that social aspect of being part of a club.”

For Ms. Armenta, learning that her DECA leadership translates to a tangible result is a highlight of her chosen profession.

“I find it most rewarding when a student comes to me with immediate gratification: ‘I was in this interview and I explained my DECA experience. I felt confident in the interview and I got the job, on the spot.’

“And when students see that immediate feedback, they know that what I’ve been telling them is true: that the skills they are learning are applicable as they continue moving forward in their lives.”