IRHS students take business prowess to national conference
Look out, world, for these future business leaders — Indian River High School students earning several spots at this week’s Business Professionals of America (BPA) National Leadership Conference in Indianapolis, Ind.
IRHS brought home state trophies in six team and individual events. Students who earned a spot at nationals included Marissa Fox, Yosef Knight-Nieves, Reilly Scott and Charles Wayne (first place, Small Business Management Team); Hannah Davis (first place, Prepared Speech); and Corinne Hitch (second place, with a $750 scholarship, Entrepreneurship).
Led by staff advisors Stephanie Wilkinson and Jeff Bunting, the IR students will pop back to school for one day after spring break, then travel April 30 to May 4, representing Delaware in leadership and business seminars, workshops and networking opportunities, as well as some sightseeing perks.
Nationally, BPA gives middle school, high school and college students real-world business training, including finance, management, marketing and more. More than 1,100 students entered the Delaware competition.
Students prepared their presentations for months.
The Small Business Management Team acted as consultants. Students had to improve profits for a fictional company, Charlie Chocolates, studying his “product awareness, his distribution channels, his packaging labor costs, overhead costs, etcetera,” Fox said. “We analyzed each and every one and told him how he could improve it.”
They also gave the judges some food for thought.
“We also created a mock candy bar to show that we have improved to the label and what our actual product was,” said Scott, a senior. “I actually made the chocolate. We used peanut butter and chocolate, and made it into a swirl.”
They wrapped the bar in tinfoil, designed a new label and “packaged it like a real candy bar.”
“I think that was one of the reasons we won, because we were one of the only groups that brought in a product, chocolate, and gave it to the judges,” said senior Knight-Nieves. “At first, the judges were like, ‘Is this real? Like, can you eat it?’”
“We thought outside of the box, and I think that’s what really put us ahead of everyone else,” Fox said.
They were ready for the competition-day curveball, when judges also asked for plans to expand the business geographically.
The winning presentation was a team effort, with some people brainstorming and researching behind the scenes, while others were more comfortable presenting and being sociable.
Although junior Hannah Davis used to be nervous about public speaking, she got the gold for prepared speech.
Armed with just notecards and an outline, she spoke for five to seven minutes, and “they judge you on how eloquently you speak on your topic in general,” Davis said. “It’s just about how well you spoke, and how good your speech is.”
She chose to discuss responsibilities of business in today’s world, compared to the past. Davis came to the conclusion that modern companies are “not responsible for workers’ safety and overall wellbeing more than they have been in the past.”
Davis said the key to speaking is to memorize the information but not the speech.
“When you do memorize it, you sound very robotic and dethatched from what you’re saying, so I think that’s what really helped me, the fact that I just went in there with an outline, and that was it. I just knew my topic well enough that I was able to be comfortable and sound natural when I was speaking, and that really must have helped, because I placed first.”
Corrine Hitch won second place in the entrepreneurship competition, “which is basically starting your own business, and I had to create a whole business plan, like pages upon pages of it with information on my business.”
The senior designed a pet boutique and salon, and was confident, but still pleasantly surprised, to take silver for her presentation of everything that might be needed in a business.
Many of the students were BPA first-timers. Fox is only disappointed that she didn’t join as a freshman, especially since the junior now hopes to pursue business in college. She called this one of her most exciting programs and proudest accomplishments.
“As the president, I think it’s really cool that we got so many people this year that have never been in BPA before. I think we have 32 members this year, whereas last year we had six, including the advisors,” Scott said, noting how eager everyone was to compete.
“It’s really exciting … for us to kind of put ourselves on the map and to have so many people going to nationals. All of our groups did so well, even though a lot of them didn’t place to go to nationals, we all did excellent and we definitely put ourselves back out there,” Davis said. “Hopefully, BPA stays a big part of Indian River in the future.”
Other IR state winners included Courtney Gray (fourth place, Marketing, Management, & Human Resources), Paul Whaley (fourth place, Business Meeting Management) and Dylan Hudson (fifth place, Financial Math).
“We would have never been here if it wasn’t for our advisors, Stephanie Wilkinson and Jeff Bunting,” said Wayne, a junior. “They’ve helped us tremendously on everything that we have done all year long. … They’ve stayed after with us countless hours to help us. They were a key factor in going that extra mile in helping us all get to nationals.”
Wilkinson and Bunting found students’ hidden talents, guided them though stressful meltdowns and cheered them to the very end.
Davis still remembers Wilkinson first encouraging her to build on her speaking talents.
“For her to say that, it meant a lot,” Davis said. “And then for me to actually win … I kind of did it for her at the same time, ’cause she’s the one that first put a face on it.”
Wilkinson and Bunting used their own business and corporate experience to give real-world feedback.
“These guys really are future business leaders,” Bunting said. “When we see them working together and taking the initiative for their own success — Mrs. Wilkinson and I are there as their advisors in a true sense of the word: we provide guidance to them, and the rest of the work is done by them. They’re responsible for their success.”
“They’re great kids. They are all top-of-their-class students,” Wilkinson said, adding that they excel in business and other classes and are incredibly driven, using this experience to prep for college.
With a family of 32 teammates, Indian River’s BPA supported each other’s wins and respected their losses.
“We definitely had, I would say, the best overall competitors and sportsmanship there,” said Wayne. “It was definitely the learning that we did, and it was the recovery that was Indian River. Like they said, four to 32 — that’s a big jump in members, so it was like a recovery year, but we did great and next year we plan on taking even more.”
They hope to see more Selbyville Middle School students begin BPA and expect more of their high school peers to join, too.
“And, also, the chapters that are in middle schools have heard about us, and they know what we do,” Scott said. “They know how to prepare, and they are eager to learn and look forward to competing like we do.”
The community got behind IR, too. Students dressed up to practice their presentations for business owners from Warren’s Station restaurant and Coastal Point newspaper, as well as school administrators and parents.
“What I think was a big, big help was they gave us feedback. They told us, ‘You should change this, or you should really dive more into this and not this’ — especially how we dress, everything,” Fox said. “They helped us so much, and I think that’s what also helped us just kill it.”