This article appears in the May edition of 400 Life Magazine.
Debra Moore first joined DECA as a junior at what was then Forsyth County’s only high school. She thought the international marketing career and technical program looked fun while her older sister travelled out of town for competitions before Debra herself was old enough to join the program.
She had no idea at the time, however, that DECA would change the course of her life forever, opening her up to skills, talents and a confidence that she never knew she had.
“The marketing teacher, she just — she was incredible,” Debra said. “That’s what made me decide I wanted to become a marketing and DECA teacher. I wanted to pour into young people the way my teacher had poured into me.”
Debra, like many of her peers back then, had never pictured herself attending college before joining the program. But just a few years later, she earned her bachelor’s degree in education. She began her career at Forsyth Central before eventually transferring to South Forsyth High School where she ran the DECA program and taught marketing classes for more than 20 years.
When she started at South Forsyth in the late 1990s, the school had 11 DECA students in total. Knowing the impact the program had on her and could have on so many other young lives in the county, she worked hard to build up the program. She dodged budget cuts, recruited students after new school openings and coached her kids to success at competitions and in their future careers.
Debra retired just a few years ago, and when she left, South Forsyth’s DECA chapter had grown to be the largest in the world with more than 1,400 members.
And her legacy at the school is far from over. Now, she gets to look on with pride as her daughter, Chasady Shadburn, leads the program along with three other marketing teachers, ensuring DECA’s future and impact in the Forsyth County school system.
Chasady grew up alongside South Forsyth’s DECA kids, going with her mom to every competition. It was no surprise, then, that when it came time for her to start high school, she went outside of her district to South Forsyth where they allowed students to join in their freshman year.
“My mom just happened to be the teacher there, but that wasn’t why I did it,” Chasady said. “I actually very much didn’t want to be affiliated. I loved my mom, but I wanted to be my own person.”
Debra taught Chasady’s first marketing class, and she said they did not even tell the other students that they were related.
“And so for the first semester, nobody knew she was my mom,” Chasady said, laughing. “And then one day, somebody figured it out and they said, ‘Wait, hold up! I had no idea!’”
Despite wanting to keep a distance from her mom, Chasady instantly fell in love with the program and excelled during competitions.
Debra compared DECA’s competitions to the TV show Shark Tank, explaining that students present a business or advertising idea to a group of judges. Chasady placed third internationally in just her first year in the program, and she ranked within the top 10 in the world three times before graduating.
Much like her mom, Chasady said DECA completely changed her life. Before joining, she said she was “painfully shy,” but in learning to speak publicly, pitch ideas to judges and network with professionals, she slowly found her confidence.
“By the end of it all, I was just Miss Chatty Kathy over here talking to everybody,” Chasady said. “It really got me out of my shell and helped me find something that I loved.”
As she neared graduation, she remembered others asking if she would take over her mom’s legacy as a DECA teacher. At the time, she almost scoffed at the idea. She comes from a family of teachers, and she wanted to break out from the pack and find a career path that she could call her own.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, she began to guide her career down the corporate route. While still taking classes, she began an internship at Arby’s corporate headquarters that later turned into a job in the company’s marketing department.
From there, she worked in advertising sales at Discovery Channel and later in media planning at 22 Squared, an advertising agency in Atlanta.
“It was great and so much fun,” Chasady said. “But I remember when I got back home …. it always felt like there was kind of a hole. I felt like what I do is really cool, but I’m not fulfilled. There is something missing, and I can’t figure out what it is.”
At the same time, Chasady remembered using almost all of her vacation time off from work to go with her mom on week-long trips to DECA competitions. For the first time, she started to seriously consider leaving the corporate world to go into teaching.
“I battled with coming back to teach because I didn’t want to admit it to myself,” Chasady said. “I had all of these dreams of being a CMO of a major corporation. But then it just dawned on me that it doesn’t matter what title I have if I don’t feel fulfilled.”
When Chasady told her about the decision, Debra said she had mixed feelings. She knew that her daughter is talented and would be able to go far within a corporation, but she also knew from her own experience how amazing teaching could be.
Thinking back to just her second year at Forsyth Central, Debra remembered one student who she said was incredibly timid and shy. She eventually talked him into going to a DECA competition, and he ended up walking off stage that day with a trophy.
“I’ve never won anything in my whole life,” she remembered him saying.
She felt the impact the moment had on him, and she knew then that she would stay with DECA for as long as she could.
“I will never forget it,” she said. “It still gives me chills just talking about it.”
Chasady began teaching marketing at South Forsyth three years ago just before Debra retired from her job at the district office overseeing all of Forsyth County’s DECA chapters. Debra said Chasady’s role there has helped her to stay connected to the program.
The teachers always bring in extra coaches to help students prepare for competition, and before the pandemic, Debra came to the campus regularly to volunteer. Chasady said her students are always overjoyed when she is assigned as their coach.
“They go around bragging like, ‘I got Ms. Moore!’” she said, laughing. “It’s because they know she’s produced so many winners, and they’re just so excited to get to work with her.”
Chasady said that while she felt some pressure when she first started at South Forsyth, she likes sharing the connection to the program with her mom, and she is determined to use her experience in the corporate world to continue to build up the program and help students.
Debra explained that when she first started, it was difficult even to try to keep the program running. At the time, about 20 years ago, marketing and other career and technical programs were considered vocational courses. Many in the county simply didn’t see the value.
In just her first two years of teaching, she said the school cut at least four of its career and technical programs.
“We were pushed in the background and treated as if we weren’t important,” Debra said. “I made it my mission and my goal …. to make sure that when the school system was doing budget cuts, marketing would never be cut from Forsyth County Schools.”
She worked hard to rebrand the program completely, showing students, parents and school and district leaders the many benefits of the marketing program. She remained “stubborn,” in her goal, not backing down on her belief in the impact the program could have on students.
Now, the atmosphere surrounding the courses in the school district is completely different. Every high school in the county offers marketing classes with 30 different marketing teachers overall, and district leaders continuously stress the importance of career pathways for students.
“It made me feel really, really good that I could contribute to making sure that this program will hopefully never be cut,” Debra said. “They will always be thriving in our school system so that more and more students can have these experiences.”
Debra is excited that her daughter will be part of the program, continuing on and growing after her retirement, and she said she will always be there to see the students and support them alongside her.
In their family now, the two have a saying — “Once you get bit by the DECA bug, it never goes away.”
“I don’t foresee that I will ever, ever not participate in Forsyth County’s DECA program,” Debra said. “As long as my body will continue to allow me to go, I’ll be there.”