Marketing and business teacher Cynthia Smith talks to her retail marketing class about their business model presentations at Grayson County High School Nov. 3, 2010. Photo by Amy Wallot

Marketing and business teacher Cynthia Smith talks to her retail marketing class about their business model presentations at Grayson County High School Nov. 3, 2010. Photo by Amy Wallot

By Matthew Tungate

Western Kentucky University student Brittany Hall is majoring in business and marketing education and is on pace to graduate in three-and-a-half years. The Grayson County High School alumna hopes someday to teach business or marketing courses at the high school level.

Hall is determined, motivated and service-oriented. She credits those attributes to her high school participation in DECA, the co-curricular student organization for marketing, finance, hospitality and management students, and the marketing teacher who leads it, Cynthia Smith.

“I was blessed to have a teacher who truly saw my potential and helped me set goals that she knew I could attain when I didn’t think it was possible,” Hall said. “Having a teacher like Ms. Smith inspired me to want to teach. I want to be able to lead students to see their potential as she did with me and inspire them to make a difference.

“In college, I chose to major in business and marketing education because I wanted to be as influential to my future students as Ms. Smith was to me.”

Smith said she is pleased by Hall’s choice, as the young woman exemplifies many of the benefits students receive from joining career and technical student organizations (CTSOs). Hall learned to set goals, plan strategies to meet those goals, work with people to help achieve her goals and evaluate what worked and what to improve upon.

Smith’s marketing and DECA programs at the Grayson County Technology Center are models as well, according to Nancy Graham, former business/marketing program consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education.

“Ms. Smith has as an excellent marketing program and DECA Chapter,” Graham said. “Her program demonstrates how the student organizations and the classroom are integrated together to achieve student success.”

Smith is in her 24th year as a teacher in Grayson County and 27th in education. She’s in her eighth year as director of the Grayson County Technology Center, where she also oversees CTSOs.

“Certainly as educators, we hear over and over about how it’s our responsibility to introduce and integrate 21st-century skills to our students in order for them to be successful in an ever competitive and global job market,” she said. “As I reflect on my approach while teaching marketing, the successes my students have had during recent years is the combination of classroom, CTSO and community involvement.”

Community involvement key

Every career and technical program has an advisory committee, usually composed of community leaders and educators, that drives the curriculum, Graham said.

“They’re there to provide some guidance and some direction and really reassurance that what they’re doing is right on,” she said.

Smith’s advisory board is a model others should follow, Graham said, consisting of postsecondary partners; business people; legislators; school board members; parents; and students.

“The key to it is to get the right people there and to have meetings where they set goals for program improvement,” she said. “Most of the time it’s curriculum- and program-based.”

Having so much of the community involved connects students with what awaits them after high school, Graham said.

“It’s really just making that connection to the world of work and how their marketing courses are relevant and current,” she said. “I think it makes the connection for the students where they can see what they’re learning really is applicable to what they’re going to be doing once they leave high school.”

Smith said Grayson County’s school-based enterprise provides local businesses with customized banners, plaques, mugs, certificates and shirts.

“These interactions have also laid the groundwork for co-op workstations for students who, in some cases, have held those positions while working their way through college,” she said. “Through the networking with businesses and civic groups, my students have been asked to share their (DECA) projects with many civic groups as well as at chamber functions.”

DECA members also are asked frequently to help at many types of events with business and community partners who have seen their visibility, Smith said.

“The chamber and other groups genuinely want to be partners with the school system, and it gives the kids a terrific chance to work on their communication and technical skills before a group of folks who might just one day be their bosses,” she said.

Project-based approach

That strong connection with the business community also affords her students opportunities to learn, Smith said.

Using a project-based instructional approach where students can learn based on their interests while still covering content makes learning possible and fun, she said.

For example, Smith’s retail marketing students create a business plan for a business of their choice as their culminating project. As the students plan for a business they have an interest in, they get excited about their work, she said. Performing all of the details that are part of the plan doesn’t seem cumbersome because students get a chance to showcase not only content but creativity, Smith said.

Another way to integrate the community into instruction is through taking the students to businesses related to the content, she said.

She took her retail class to visit Kohl’s and Best Buy, where they learned about two different styles of retail: merchandising and sales.

“Hearing me discuss it is one thing, but after listening to a 25-year-old discuss the career path from cashier while in high school to college major in retail studies to paid management intern while in college to assistant manager at a leading retail store caused one young lady in the class to say, ‘Wow, I’m going to advance like her one day,’” Smith said. “As educators, we are always looking for that ‘ah-ha’ moment, where we have a wide smile when we see that kids finally get the connection. It is through this and other types of community involvement activities that kids see the connection from the classroom to a career.”

Hall said this hands-on approach helped her personally. One of her classes participated in a job shadowing experience. Smith worked with the area chamber of commerce executive director to ensure that each student shadowed someone in their field of interest.

“Through this experience I shadowed the human resources director at the medical center in my county and learned the ins and outs of that profession, which led me to realize that I wasn’t interested in health care management,” she said. “This equipped me with knowledge of various career paths and helped me to better decide on a major when enrolling in college.”

Co-curricular activities important

This real-world approach to instruction has translated to student success in DECA competitions.

Hall said competition begins at the regional level and then proceeds to the state and national levels. She competed against more than 13,000 at the national competition all four years of high school. As a senior, she and a partner finished in the top 20 in their event, “which was very exciting, as that is a huge accomplishment considering the multitude of competitors at that level.”

Because of her participation, Hall said she has traveled to Anaheim, Calif., Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; Nashville and Orlando.

“I flew on an airplane for the first time with my DECA chapter on our way to nationals in Dallas my freshman year,” she said.

Smith said Grayson County has had students make the finals and finish in the top 18 at the national DECA conference for nine straight years.

“CTSOs give the chance for kids to show off the skills and concepts they develop in class. I look at it as the application of theory,” she said. “I get tickled when students tell me after taking exams during competition that many of the questions were things we have talked about it class. Sarcastically I respond, ‘Really?’”

Smith said having good students and a competitive nature have helped her make Grayson County successful. But she also has many business and community people that help with role playing and case studies prior to competition.

But DECA and other CTSOs are about more than competitions.

Hall said she networked in her community and met many officials and prominent residents who help run the county.

During her four years at Grayson County she worked with three charitable organizations, Hall said.

“The most important thing that I think I’ve gained from participating in DECA is motivation,” she said. “Through DECA, I felt like I was seeing my hard work pay off for the first time. DECA has instilled in me a desire to make a difference and the confidence that I someday will.”

Cynthia Smith,, (270) 259-3195