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Clarkston DECA Students Take Over to Learn Work, Life Skills

DECA students are all-hands-on deck for a surge of customers at Orange Hippo Bakery

Whether you were out doing some grocery shopping, or getting a bite to eat, or even hitting a couple of golf balls on Friday, you may have noticed the sea of red shirts in Clarkston.

The 38th annual Clarkston DECA takeover had over 100 students putting in a hard days work, connecting them to future possibilities and the community.

DECA is an international association of marketing students that teaches them all the different aspects of marketing and business. What better way to prepare emerging leaders and even entrepreneurs than by putting them to work - for real?

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"Hi, how are you guys today?" was the greeting early Friday morning as two eager little faces peer through a glass display at sugary, sparkly treats.

Aluminum crinkles as fondant is pulled free from its packaging. Hands rub the white paste together until a long log is formed, which is then twisted into what will now be a horn adorning a unicorn doughnut.

It was business as usual at Clarkston's Orange Hippo Bakery - except for the fact that the business has been taken over by teens.

"We have a supervisor, but we are actually here running the business," junior Alyssa Johnston says.

It's Clarkston High School's DECA Takeover Day, where students helpfully hijack local businesses, allowing them to learn real-time jobs skills.

Alyssa explains the preparation to successfully handle their one-day jobs comes over a week in advance. "We each come in during our DECA class period, so for an hour each day for two weeks leading up, we come in and train."

The takeover started nearly four decades ago as a competition between Lewiston and Clarkston's DECA chapters. From handling cash to customer service, the students will learn all the ins and outs of various jobs, including at Clarkston's Albertsons.

Albertsons general merchandise manager Tammy Winger says, "Albertsons actually started the program and its been going with Albertsons for 38 years now."

Still going strong today, 127 teens were spread out between eight area businesses, with nearly 70 at Albertsons alone.

"Vanilla first, steam the milk first, then put my two shots in last?" a barista trainee asks her mentor. With the final steps in mind, a stopwatch times how long it takes her to prepare a steamed milk caramel coffee concoction. There's no crying over spilled milk at Starbucks, where a drink has to be made in under two minutes.

It's the type of experience a busy student may not otherwise get until after graduation.

Tammy says students love learning how grocery stores run, right down to the labels. "How many warehouses we actually have, how many vendors we have come in, how do we make signs, how do we make tags? All the background stuff they don't even think about when you come in a grocery store."

Back at the bakery, three girls have donned cartoonish doughnut costumes and hit the street. The "doughnut dance" is meant to encourage customers, but it also produces laughs.

Because while the takeover is a day of real work, it's also a day of fun that could lead to a lifetime of success.

Tammy says, "I've hired two of my students." Alyssa hopes she has similar luck. "I actually plan on applying here [at Orange Hippo] after the takeover."

"Thank you, have a great day," Alyssa says as a patron drops change into a tip bucket. One happy customer, and an important life lesson.

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DECA advisor Lynn Carey has been running the takeover for the last 30 years, and often has former students drop by or even take part in the event themselves.

She says it's not only great to see them achieve dreams they had in high school, but also that they give back to the program that helped them.

The owner of Orange Hippo, for example, is a former Clarkston DECA member.

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