Students wanting to join a group, meet new people, contribute to their community and learn valuable life skills at the same time have found the right place at Corona del Sol High School.
The Tempe school has nearly 50 clubs — from Aztec Gamer’s Club and Red Kettle to Orchestra and Sports Medicine — whose members, after a COVID-19 year of meeting virtually or not gathering at all, are excited about being together.
“Corona del Sol has really tried to give every student the opportunity to be part of a group,” said Robin Palmer, a Career and Technical Education teacher and advisor for DECA. “Club offerings have doubled in size in the six years I’ve been teaching here. Some kids have unique interests, and if they can find a teacher, coach or someone in the school office to host, they can form a club.”
Becoming more environmentally aware, digging deeper into finance or film or being hands-on with robotics or cooking — there’s a club for each at Corona. Among the largest are band and National Honor Society, the oldest may be Student Council, and the Black Student Union is among the newest, according to Monique Brandau, assistant principal over activities.
“We’re very excited about the Black Student Union, which is open to all students and is growing since it was formed last year,” Brandau said.
Palmer, a Tempe Union High School District teacher for almost 20 years, just started her sixth year at Corona, and has been an advisor for DECA — formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America — for 25 years. At last year’s state DECA competition, Palmer received the 2020 Distinguished Service Award.
Her DECA involvement dovetails nicely with her teaching, primarily of skills that transfer to the workplace such as business management and law and sports and entertainment marketing.
DECA often draws students interested in careers such as marketing, hospitality, entrepreneurship and finance. It gives them chances to apply their classroom learning to projects at state and, hopefully, national competitions.
They also receive extra skills in decision making, networking, follow-through and collaboration, Palmer said.
“I love the opportunities it provides for students to stretch themselves a little more as high school kids,” she said. “I also love that DECA helps emphasize that, when you are successful, you give back to others.”
For example, DECA students in 2019-20 collected more than 3,300 pairs of shoes. Most were sent to South America, primarily to women starting micro-businesses, where the shoes were resold to their customers, Palmer said.
Last year, despite the pandemic, DECA students created a community service project for Cloud Covered Streets. The nonprofit helps people dealing with homelessness or instability through a mobile unit that has free showers, laundry services, new clothing, hygiene supplies and other services.
Allie Pequeno and Evan Swarup, now juniors, built both fundraising and volunteer components into their project.
A restaurant night raised $120 for Cloud Covered Streets, and students were recruited to volunteer at the organization’s trailer.
Swarup said he saw firsthand that homeless individuals are people who deserve respect and attention, contrary to some viewpoints in society.
“It was a breaking-stereotypes moment for me,” Swarup said. “Most of them are in a rough spot, and we all have rough spots. It’s just that theirs are a little more rough.”
Pequeno, who joined DECA because of its reputation at Corona del Sol for helping build business, communication and leadership skills, agreed.
“Being involved taught me that homeless people usually are those who made a couple of wrong decisions,” she said. “But they are good people and they want their lives back.”
Palmer said the homeless clients also taught the students a few lessons, giving advice about college and avoiding mistakes they’d made, such as marrying before you graduate.
“It was great to see that these adults felt so comfortable with these two teenagers that they wanted to help them as well,” she said.
This year, the pair is planning to expand their work with Cloud Covered Streets to include other Corona clubs.
To learn more about clubs at the school, visit tempeunion.org/ coronadelsol and click on activities.