LOWER TOWNSHIP — If Brett Barnes ever decides to start her own business, the Lower Cape May Regional High School senior will not need nearly as much on-the-job training.

Barnes, 17, of North Cape May, has been in the Future Business Leaders of America, or FBLA, since her sophomore year.

“I know Excel, Microsoft Office and PowerPoint. I learned computer applications for spreadsheets. I have graphic design, including making logos,” Barnes said at the high school Tuesday morning.

The FBLA program, the largest and oldest student business organization in the world, dates to 1937 and now extends from middle schools to the college level. There is even a chapter for parents, alumni and educators. Of the 250,000 members in the national organization, 215,000 are high school students such as Barnes who take a number of business electives and join an after-school club that focuses on business.

Barnes thinks she might want to own a restaurant some day. She has visited quite a few of them. The program doesn’t just teach computer skills. The visits to area businesses ranging from restaurants to fitness clubs allow the students to learn directly from the owners what the challenges are.

“I’ve always been interested in small business and I maybe want to open one up after college. I was thinking about a restaurant,” Barnes said.

But for now her focus is on March 14 and 15 when she will join 14 classmates competing in the annual state FBLA competition in New Brunswick. The 52 students in the local program already took regional business tests and 15 won a chance to move on the state competition. Barnes came in seventh place in a word processing test.

Business teacher Mary Rose Bispels said judges picked the top 10 students in each category for the southern, central and northern New Jersey regions. Bispels is the co-adviser for the program with teacher Kathy Parker.

“FBLA is all over America. It’s a national organization that highlights students thinking of going into business and majoring in it in college,” Bispels said.

A 27-year teacher who remembers when computers replaced typewriters, Bispels began the FBLA program in the 2008-09 school year because it made sense in a county dominated by small businesses catering to the tourism industry. The group meets after school, often at night because many of the students play sports.

Bispels is proud of the way the school has kept up with business technology, but the students also have some low-tech lessons, such as proper handshakes, customer relations, how to act in a job interview, verbal and written communications, and others.

Visits to area business drive home many of the lessons.

“I learned a lot about how people get started,” said senior Jennifer Hickok, 17, of Lower Township. “Some knew right away they wanted to own a business. Others did it on a whim after retirement. We’ve been to a lot of restaurants but I’m planning on something a bit more corporate.”

Hickok placed first in the regional competition for word processing and said she is going to New Brunswick with intentions to win. The competition will include tests where business concepts are applied.

Senior Shelby Brown is using the program to become Microsoft Office certified.

“Almost everything requires it,” Brown said.

She has also learned graphics design, Adobe Photoshop, Flash and other computer programs. Brown said she has created her own fliers and logos for businesses.

At the very least, the training looks real good “on the resume,” said sophomore Bobby Munizza, 15, of Erma. Munizza said he took the test for Microsoft Office Specialist and scored an 860 out of a possible 1,000 points. Munizza has concentrated on computer classes and took a consumer economics course. Next year he will focus on graphic design.

“I want to go into either business or medical. You even need this for the medical field,” Munizza said.

The school offers a wide variety of business classes, including business law, consumer economics, accounting, retail marketing, business management, entrepreneurship and small business management, hospitality and tourism, sports and entertainment marketing, desktop publishing, graphic design, computer applications, publication media and design, PC repair and troubleshooting, Web page design, computer animation and others.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711