RIDGWAY — Ridgway DECA students have been breaking barriers this year, earning top places in district and state competitions. At the end of the month, they’ll go international.

Kyle Gordon, instructor of government/economics and advisor of Ridgway DECA, said it is a professional development organization for young, aspiring leaders.

“At the competition, students take part in a written exam, based on their area of professional specialization,” Gordon said. “They are challenged with a role-play scenario, conducted with a local professional who serves as a judge, and provides a score for their performance and knowledge of the student’s career-focus area.”

Ridgway DECA was also key in forming Ridgway’s Junior Steering Committee, where students serve on local boards, including the RASD board, Ridgway-Elk Chamber of Commerce, Ridgway Industrial Corporation and the Ridgway Heritage Council, Gordon said.

Throughout the school year, students attend workshops and conferences, such as the Pennsylvania DECA Career Development Day event in Philadelphia.

DECA is also dedicated to community service and charity, Gordon says. It partnered with Goodwill Industries to host a Ridgway community clothing drive, collecting more than 2,500 pounds of clothing, and has undertaken other efforts, such as “Salute the Troops Night.”

Ridgway has 12 DECA students, and it’s the third year hosting the chapter, Gordon says. His first exposure to DECA was when he was an instructor at DuBois Area High School, assisting former business instructor Rodney Thompson, to start the DuBois DECA chapter.

“It’s amazing to see these students grow and develop in their maturity and professionalism,” he said. “We have student representation on almost all the committees in our town and in these settings, they are no longer students, but equals in the organizational processes.”

Since Ridgway’s first year of having DECA, 27 of 33 members qualified to compete at the state level, Gordon says, adding eight students who competed at district level last year and advanced to the state conference in Hershey this year.

Ridgway DECA President Anna Cristini qualified to compete internationally in Orlando, Florida, and was offered a $60,000 scholarship to Jefferson University, Gordon said.

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The chapter is also invited to the International Career Development Conference in Orlando, which includes workshops by companies from around the country, and the highest competition level for students.

“This is the first time that they’ve ever reached the international level qualification,” he said.

The conference and competition is April 27-May 1. Students will also be treated to a Disney World trip, and are invited to a Universal Studios event.

In order to attend the conference, DECA had to raise a little more than $10,000, Gordon said. Local individuals, businesses and organizations in Ridgway were “quick to support” the initiative, helping raise $7,000 in sponsorships alone.

A Goodwill clothing drive, Krispy Kreme sales, beef-stick sales, gift cards, a corn-hole tournament, taco and pizza night at the Ridgway-Elks Lodge, a fish-fry at Elk County Foods and a steak fry at the Ridgway Moose Lodge were fundraisers leading up to the trip.

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