While enrolled in marketing classes at Chamberlain Career Development Center, Derrick Faison learned more than just how to sell goods and services.

Through the student organization Distributive Education Clubs of America, Faison and about 500 other students practice marketing skills learned in the classroom, but more important, they learn the art of competition.

This year about 3,000 students enrolled in marketing classes in junior high schools, high schools, career development centers and special education schools throughout the District, according to school officials. Student enrollment in marketing classes has more than tripled since the program was first offered in the District's high schools in 1967.

"Marketing skills can be used in almost any field you can think of," said Nina Gaskin, supervising director of marketing education and DECA. "Over one-third of all careers are in marketing. Students need to learn the art of marketing. The sooner they learn it, the better they'll be when they enter high school and begin deciding on a career."

The D.C. chapter of DECA is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Throughout the school year, DECA members attend workshops on leadership, effective communication and civic awareness, and participate in fund-raising projects to develop marketing skills.

Faison, auxiliary vice president for the D.C. chapter of DECA said he has gained more leadership skills and competitive know-how from DECA than any other organization he has participated in. Faison, who ran unsuccessfully for citywide vice president last year, is planning to run for national DECA office next year.

"Competition on the national level is a lot more fun, because first impressions really count," Faison said.

Faison established acquaintances with DECA members from around the country at the national convention in New Orleans in May. "It was the best experience of my life," he said. "I met so many people -- professional, smart people."

Three years of high school marketing courses and participation in competitive marketing activities after school paid off for Mia Long when she received a $12,000 scholarship in November to attend Johnson and Wales College in Providence, R.I.

Long was one of 300 members nationwide who were recommended by their local chapter advisers to compete for eight scholarships.

Although Long admits she was nervous about applying for the scholarship, she said she was not afraid of losing. "I knew the competition would be stiff, but I learned that you have to keep trying. If you lose, you have to try again."

Long is no stranger to competition. Two years ago, at the 40th National DECA Conference in Atlanta, Long, who was then citywide vice president, ran for national office. Though she lost by two votes to her opponent from Massachusetts, she said she was not defeated. The experience "was a lesson in marketing I'll never forget."

"We were selling ourselves," Long said. "It was like a minipresidential election." The candidates had three days to persuade the delegates representing the 50 states, Canada, Puerto Rico and Guam to vote for them. The candidates, assisted by other DECA members working as their campaign staff, planned their campaigns, arranged interviews and prepared and delivered speeches.

Seretha Tearsall, a DECA member enrolled in marketing courses at Burdick Career Development Center in Northwest, worked on Long's campaign. "She took {the election loss} better than we did," Tearsall said. "I was afraid of losing, but when I saw how she felt after losing that tough battle, it made me unafraid to lose and unafraid to compete."

Ronald Flowers, chairman of the D.C. Public School Marketing Advisory Council, said national competition gives students a better appreciation for the seriousness with which they have to approach life. "When they only compete in their neighborhoods, they get a false sense of security," said Flowers, who was inducted into the DECA Hall of Fame in 1967 when he was a marketing teacher and DECA coordinator for the Chicago public school system.

"DECA has certainly come a long way," said Flowers. "When I was coming along you worked in a store or a gas station." Now, he said, society is becoming more marketing-oriented and students have the opportunity to learn all aspects of putting a finished product in the hands of a consumer.

Long said she enjoys sharing her experience and insight with other DECA members. But she realized that graduating from Coolidge High School last year meant also having to leave the student organization, so she joined two other graduating DECA members to form an alumni chapter of DECA.

The alumni chapter will recruit and advise DECA members and sponsor workshops on leadership, communication and other marketing skills, Long said. Since the alumni chapter was organized, less than a year ago, about 70 people have joined. "We got so much out of DECA, we just wanted to give something back," she said.