Bait-and-switch fraud, phishing and black-out dates are topics that rarely come up in everyday conversation. For a group of five Pleasantville High School students, recent participants in the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs High School Consumer Bowl 2013, the subject matter is not necessarily offbeat.

On Jan. 25, the group, led by business teacher Carla Block-Ropieki, left the high school parking lot by 8:30 a.m. for hours of consumer-related competition at Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City.

The Pleasantville school competed against the seasoned competitors of Absegami, Oakcrest, Cedar Creek and newcomer St. Joseph.

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"I think it's a really good thing that this competition is held because it's all things that they will use again," said Block-Ropieki, who also oversees the Distributive Education Club of America at the school.

Although Cedar Creek took the Atlantic County title - moving on to the South Jersey regional competition in the spring - Block-Ropieki said that the lessons learned made the experience worthwhile, realizing that her group of young students would eventually become adult consumers facing rules, regulations and, unfortunately, fraud on a regular basis.

"As a consumer, they are going to have to go out in the real world and deal with it all," she said.

Weeks before the competition, the state supplied student competitors with a binder of sample questions and answers to review. Team captain Keith Spence, 18, Mark Smith, 16, Clarissa Cuevas, 16, Demetrius Letson, 17, and Lillian Lopez, 17, all agreed that a win next year would require more hours of studying and preparation.

With mere seconds to hit their red buzzers, the arena for competition turned stressful quickly, the students said.

"The biggest challenge was the other schools," Letson said. "They were fast on the buzzers. That's one thing we have to work on next year."

PHS competed for the past three years, Block-Ropieki said, but Spence, a senior, and Lopez, the team's alternate, were the only returning team members, leaving the remaining three exposed to a novel situation.

The team, stumped by the competition's open-ended questions, still found the information that they had been studying useful, regardless of their loss.

"A lot of this stuff is common sense, but at the same time, it's also things that people can easily look past but can still be detrimental," Spence said.

"It will help us in the long run when we become adults," Letson added.

Next year, the underclassmen on the team will come back, ditch the nerves and possibly schedule study sessions in order to win the title.

"I am going to study extra hard to compete next year," Smith said.

Although Spence won't have the opportunity to compete in another high school consumer bowl, he hopes his team will feel confident enough in their answers to succeed in years to come.

"Never be too afraid to take a chance," he said.

Contact Caitlin Honan:


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