Entrepreneurship Education at the secondary level – Taking a closer look

The headline read “2 distinct schools, 2 Emmys – Though they’re worlds apart, Chicago Vocational and Highland Park shares honors.” Imagine, front page news of the May 1st Chicago Tribune. The Chicago area schools brought home two of seven student Emmys. I’ve been on “a mission” scanning the Chicago Tribune for articles featuring the practice of entrepreneurship education. My criteria when selecting a particular article:

  • features an activity or event taking place within a school or classroom setting;
  • the teaching method(s) are either experiential or problem-based;
  • there is a connect with the community at large, i.e. small business owners, entrepreneurs or activitists;
  • the activity/event reflects the components of an integrative curriculum;
  • the articles easily translates into a project/unit for entrepreneurship education;
  • implicit within the feature article, core concepts which facilitate entrepreneurial thinking

The articles clearly demonstrate entrepreneurial thinking and experiential and/or problem based learning in action. The “case study” approach is one technique, among many, to advance entrepreneurship education.

Returning to the front page of the Trib – Let’s take a closer look at the students from Chicago Vocational Career Academy. Fourteen students with the support of a crew of professional filmmakers worked six weeks to create the 17 minute film. The Last Stain was edited and written by Tracey Preacely a senior who plans to attend Columbia College in the fall.

The film gives a riveting account of two main characters who grapple with moral quandaries as they both sink into a life of crime. The young film makers provide a glimpse into the world that surrounds them. Preacely describes her world in these words, “This is what I come from, this is what I grew up with. People deal drugs. People rob people. But I wanted to make the characters more interesting. I wanted to showthat you have to lose somebody to gain some knowledge.”

According to the article The Last Stain received high ratings in every category–content, creativity, storytelling and execution. There is not one curse word or act of violence in the film. As part of the their summer work project with the city, the students worked with a group of professional filmmakers who worked closely supervising them with selecting sites for scenes, recruiting professional actors, producing the music score and editing the film.

These young filmmakers leave this project with a strong sense of accomplishment knowing that they produced a high quality film. They fine tuned their skills in math, communication, technology, geography and digital production. With mentoring and support the students learned risk management, determination and team work.  One of the students after completing this project decided that he would like to launch his own production studio. The potential, the talent, the creativity that can be harnessed to increase value in neighborhoods, communities and in the lives of our children.


The Youth Entrepreneurship Conference

What an event – The Youth Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by the IL Institute for Entrepreneurship Education, May 3 through 5 in Lincolnshire IL. More than 400 high school students participated in biz plan competitions, market place expo, breakout sessions and networking. From a quick look at their evaluations Saturday afternoon, the young entrepreneurs rated the conference “high five.”

The conference showcased youth entrepreneurship education as applied classroom practice with a real world focus. I was encouraged by the number of teachers who came to learn more about entrepreneurship education. Conversations were engaging, connections were made giving schools and programs the opportunity to take entrepreneurship education to the next level. YEE, an emerging field wrought by exploration, reflection, discovery, risk, successes and failures.

Some of the highlights from the conference – the more than 40 young entrepreneurs participating in the business plan and jump-start competitions. They looked very professional dressed in their business attire, their handshake firm, spoke clearly and maintained good eye contact. They pitched their business plan with confidence within a time frame of five minutes followed with questions from the judges. They responded with enthusiasm and confidence. Those who place received cash prizes.

Another highlight … the Market Place EXPO featuring 35 youth businesses representing retail, service, manufacturing, technology, publishing, music and entertainment. This event drew the crowds, all conference goers attended the EXPO. Ample time to meet the young entrepreneurs and to hear their stories.  To browse, network, sample products and purchase goods.  The expo room was filled with good energy.

All Sides of an integrative curriculum…taking a second look

Since we’re on the topic of what an integrative curriculum would look like; I draw attention to another article featured in the Thursday, April 26th edition of the Chicago Trib, Cabrini school closed, but lessons live on.

  • Detail: 16 fifth graders engage in Project Citizen, a social justice project with their teacher Brian Schultz. Students respond to the question What problem would you like to fix? The most pressing issue was the deplorable condition of their school.
  • Situation: Schultz and his students seizes the opportunity to make a difference in their learning environment. Though eventually the school closed, the kids learned lessons that changed their lives.

The project focused on problem-based learning. These kids and their teacher charged to improve the quality of their school environment using a variety of methods including statistics and constitutional law; quite impressive to get fifth graders involved to this degree. According to he article, the kids charted temperature fluctuations in their classrooms. They photographed bullet holes and bugs in the bathrooms. They penned letters to politicians and journalists. They launched a web-site and made a video documentary.

Though the article highlights the impact Project Citizen on the lives of these fifth graders, it’s also a demonstrates how one creative teacher with an entrepreneurial vision draws out the best from his students.

Framing the agenda for youth entrepreneurship education requires a critical kook at educational reform. A lot of emphasis is placed on standardized testing as a benchmark to gauge student achievement. Tests do not guarantee that kids will leave school with the skill sets to function critically and/or creatively in the innovative/global economy.

Designing an integrative curriculum

Survey findings indicate 82% of respondents support a curriculum with a “real-world” focus, a curriculum that is problem-based and integrative. Let me see, what would such a curriculum look like? Good question – let’s turn to our educators and read what they wrote.

In their own words:

  • I believe a town meeting and getting the media involved to advertise the new direction the schools, especially the high schools would be taking for this a basic undermining of the old classic liberal arts education. However, this would be one option for a student. Those who chose to study the ‘classics’ and to enter college through the traditional curriculum could still do so, if that is what was required by those particular institutions of higher learning.
  • Convince teachers, administrators, and parents that the ability to apply learned skills in academic areas is essential to success in life. That there is more than one way to succeed, that a four year degree is not the answer for all students.
  • Allow entrepreneurship classes to take the place of a core academic class in meeting state and university graduation requirements.
  • How can we do high school classes that help student’s meet high school requirements? We know that integrated curriculum is much more effective then silo education (i.e. separate math, science, English) but graduation requirements are based on this traditional way of looking at education. We need to be supporting integrated curriculum and allow for non traditional ways of meeting graduation requirements.

This integrative curriculum, what would it look like? Recently I began reading the paper with an entrepreneurial vision focusing on features related to education. Last week in the Chicago Tribune articles seemed to jump off the page. Applying an entrepreneurial vision to curriculum design and instruction – the outcome: an integrative curriculum.

Let me highlight a couple of the articles:

Friday, April 27 – Class caters to healthy life –Charter school gets lesson on how to revamp lunch menus and eating habits.

  • IN BRIEF: Jean Saunders, an advocate from Healthy Foods Campaign and Noble Network for improved nutrition and environmental health in Chicago Public Schools spent a day in a 9th grade English class at Pritzker College Prep.
  • SITUATION: Hands-on demo cooking green tomatoes, adding food facts into a discussion about “To Kill a Mockingbird”

What’s taking place in the English Class at Prizker College Prep? Taking a closer look at the core content: literature, economics and politics of food, health and food science, chemistry of food, history, ethics and character building.

Saunders’ lesson included:

  • a discussion of what people ate during the Great Depression, comparing and contrasting with what people eat today;
  • people living off the land, the agrarian culture of growing the food locally, today children eat food processed and boxed;
  • the price, availability and benefits of healthy food
  • food substance and fat content

Sounds very engaging and I am sure the kids will remember Jean Saunders. Pushing the entrepreneurial envelope further — extending the reach beyond the classroom and really thinking outside the box. What are some actions kids can take? It’s an opportunity – moving beyond jumping through hoops – What if….

  • the English class (teacher and students) connected with the social science teacher and a few entrepreneurs in the Restaurant business and/or Whole Foods and launched a health food cafe (one or two days a week).
  • the kids connected with local farmers, or Chicago Green Drinks or the Foresight Design Initiative and worked at community gardening. A great way to get parents involved. Chicago takes pride in moving to become one of the greenest cities in the country. What an example to set —- working with kids in the classroom.
  • The kids worked as teams to develop a business plan for promoting healthy or green products or services in the school or local community. They could ask the math teacher to help them with their financial statements — start-up costs, and sales projection. The Life Science teacher would help kids frame the scientific method to solving problem(s) within the local community.

There are a lot of possibilities here — for a class, better still, a school to cater to a healthy life.

Entrepreneurship and Education Reform

Framing a Youth Entrepreneurship Education Agenda presses forward, the first point draws the attention on all sides, state and district-wide, classroom and communities. The second talking point, education reform draws from entrepreneurial thinking and strategic planning. Survey respondents identified key areas in need of reform: rethinking mandates of standardized testing, and the design and implementation of an integrative curriculum.

Three respondents — in their OWN WORDS: Standardized Testing and AYPs

  • Stop having teachers teach to “the test.” My 10 year old daughter does not receive real life, problem solving situations where she forced to use her talents of creativity. At this point in time she is taught to recognize what will be on “the test.”
  • Get rid of the current framework of the ISAT. This test quashes innovative, creative, and therefore, potentially entrepreneurial thinking and achievement.
  • Too many graduation requirements and not enough time for electives; teaching to the PSAE Test
  • At this time, all electives are in a “survival mode.” With many schools not making AYP [adequate yearly progress], districts are focusing only on core academics and are not interested in adding and/or sustaining any course that does not actualize the increase of academic achievement in the cores. Therefore, adding entrepreneurship education is going to be a tough sell. Increased graduation requirements and double dosing are robbing students of elective opportunities.

Speaking of AYP and standardized testing, in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune (4/25) featured HS District 218 (Oak Lawn, located southwest of Chicago) and its 10 day intensive drill preparing students for state tests and the ACT. Headline reads:

Lesson Plans taking back seat to exams –A high school forgoes curriculum for 10-day intensive drills aimed at preparing students for a battery of state tests, college entrance exam” – Difficult call to make for district and school administrators. Students and teachers are pressured to demonstrate adequate progress. A lot of time is put into teaching kids how to take standardized tests. Policy makers set the standards, educators lose control over the delivery of services. Other viable alternatives? I think so.

An agenda for youth entrepreneurship education

The results are out — the YEE survey respondents received the executive summary highlighting the findings, a % breakdown for each question including strategies and best practices. More than 30% of the respondents provided additional strategies to advance entrepreneurship education. Overall this was a great response. What the “best practice” list lacked, educators filled in. Creating an awareness — in economic terms –creating a demand for youth entrepreneurship education moves the agenda forward.

Moving towards framing an Agenda

1. Increasing public awareness at the state level, district-wide, in classroom and communities

A consensus among YEE survey respondents indicated the need to increase public awareness on all levels: working with state legislators who set the agenda for state appropriations on funding for education. Legislation, at the state-level, mandates what constitutes a college prep curriculum. Many of the respondents implied — a college prep curriculum must be revisited so it reflects greater relevancy to the demands of a global and innovative economy.

One respondent wrote: If you want educators to be involved in entrepreneurship, then you must have it start from the top down. What I mean by that is to have the legislators fund entrepreneurship classes at the middle and high school. Then, you need to get the Superintendent/Principals of the local schools to bring in the programs to their schools.”

YEE survey respondents (82%) identified the connection between classroom and the business community key for advancing entrepreneurship education. The business communities need to make a solid case for entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurs play a critical role a key creating value in local and global economies. As one respondent stated:The business community needs to be more vocal and proactive in support of this idea.”

A number of individuals (10) stated “Get the following on board”: superintendents, board members, administrators, principals and curriculum designers, guidance counselors and faculty. One respondent wrote: Support from the school or district administration would be needed to make the change in curriculum work, to be committed to it, and to get the school board involved as well.”

NEXT: agenda building continues – what educators said about school reform and entrepreneurship.

to be continued….

Drawing Conclusions – Youth Entrepreneurship Education (YEE)

Where do we go from here? The survey results have been tabulated, conclusions drawn and distributed to more than 85 educators of IL. The instrument identified barriers of access to youth entrepreneurship education. Barriers include:

  • the lack of a precise definition to what constitutes YEE;
  • the disconnect between what is taught in the high school classroom and the skill sets kids need to function in an innovation economy;
  • the mandates at the federal and state level to demonstrate academic achievement;
  • the lack of funding and state appropriations, teacher training and entrepreneurship resources;
  • the overload of college prep courses in the high school curriculum.

Among those 125 educators who took the survey, youth entrepreneurship education creates value both in schools and in neighborhoods. If a program or school is to be successful it needs the support at different levels – legislature (state, city/municipal, and school districts) and the business community must be involved. Internal to the school environment, departments can no longer function with a silo mentality. The school functions as an eco-system and it needs the support system in place so that it can thrive and provide a dynamic learning environment for our children. Entrepreneurship education provides a framework for this to happen.