Twenty years ago, when Jacqueline Huffman was hired at North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, the school had no marketing program. “But it was a good fit for this area, where so many of the students are college-bound, and marketing is a great major,” she said.
Huffman launched a chapter of what was then called the Distributive Education Clubs of America. Now known just as DECA, the program at North Gwinnett draws about 300 students each year who work on a variety of projects that combine classroom lessons with real-world learning.
“Joining gives them chances for career growth and practical experience,” said Huffman.
About 120 students put their skills into practice by running the school's retail store. It's been singled out in as a top specialty store in the county and recognized in national and international competitions as well. The bestsellers are spirit apparel, much of which can be customized for a specific team or logo.
“Last year, we won the state football championship, so our store had a blast,” said Huffman. “But a big part of what we do is also community service and leadership. We’re always looking for projects that allow students to be leaders in the school and community.”
Last year, DECA students launched a literacy project that proved to be a formidable community outreach as well. John Upchurch, a resident who sits on the county’s literacy committee, brought the idea to the club.
“I realized the county has two bookmobiles, but they didn’t have any books for the zero to 5 ages,” he said. “I knew about Jacqueline and DECA, and that they were very organized and could get things done. I showed them the gaps and told them we needed about $9,000 to give every child zero to 5 a book to keep this summer. And they have run with it. They’ve raised money, leveraged partnerships across the county and have almost reached the $9,000.”
Huffman said her students were stunned by some of the statistics Upchurch presented.
“He showed us that even in areas like Suwanee, where you’d think most kids come in well-equipped, they’re not ready for kindergarten,” said Huffman. “So we planned activities to raise awareness and get books into the hands of the kids.
“We’ve collected donations for the bookmobile with events like a Trunk or Treat at Halloween, when DECA members were dressed like their favorite characters and gave out candy and free books. In November we asked the 3,200 students here to look in their purses and backpacks, and donate their change for two minutes, and we collected more than $300.”
The project also involved English teachers who encouraged parents and students to buy books, and the result was more than $800 worth of donations for the bookmobile.
Junior and DECA President Savannah Gora said the project has been one of the group’s proudest efforts.
“We thought it was something we could really grab onto, and it would directly affect our county,” she said. “We all know our favorite childhood stories, and we wanted to give that to other kids who might not have that opportunity.”
Information about North Gwinnett high is online at northgwinnett.com; details about DECA can be found at deca.org.
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Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-744-3042.