Visualize an entrepreneur and what do you see? An individual in business attire? Someone speaking next to a slideshow presentation featuring line graphs and pie charts? What about a 20-year-old female who started a handcrafted electric guitar company right out of high school? Or a male high school senior who is in the thick of creating a prototype for a shoe designed to replenish electrolytes back into the body? The modern-day entrepreneur encompasses anyone who can identify a problem or need and create a solution. While Jeff Lund, instructional technologist at the Innovation Center, would like to share more details on what his students are working on in the Entrepreneurial Zone, he can’t give away too much since they are in the middle of designing prototypes, exploring how to establish LLCs, and pitching ideas to local investors.
Through the Entrepreneurial Zone class, students create fluid business plans, conduct marketing SWOT analyses, and complete financial literacy coursework to understand what financing is required from investors to pay themselves and get their startup off the ground.
As an intern in the Entrepreneurial Zone, Skyline senior, AnneJeanette Gonzales, is paid as a district employee to serve as a marketer for community outreach events, an event planner for various networking events, and an online systems manager for entrepreneurial events. While enrolled in the course, she is also earning college credit. Participation in programs that combine coursework and real-world experiences are transformational for students. AnneJeanette shared, “The Entrepreneurial Zone has prepared me for my future, because I have been forced to step outside of my comfort zone. When I started high school I was very shy, but now I speak at a lot of events and this program has helped me expand my network and meet industry professionals and other students who have mentored me while I apply for college.”
Advocating for Financial Literacy
Financial literacy is one component of entrepreneurship and while it is incorporated into the Entrepreneurial Zone, this is not unique in St. Vrain. Financial literacy is woven through curriculum from kindergarten to high school. When personal financial literacy was first created as a Colorado Academic Standard in 2009, the content was looped into social studies and math classes. However, in 2016-2017, the St. Vrain Valley Schools Student Advisory Council met with district leadership to advocate for a standalone class to cover topics such as money management, financial planning, credit and debt, taxes, and risk management. Based on student input, the Board of Education voted to add financial literacy to St. Vrain graduation requirements starting with the class of 2021.
Students across St. Vrain high schools now have the option to take Personal Financial Literacy or Wealth Management, which cover job readiness and financial goal setting, to fulfill the new graduation requirement. Students engage in learning activities that simulate the financial world, such as an online stock market game and a virtual reality world where students are assigned a life and career where they learn how to provide for their needs. Longmont High sophomore, Tessa Money, shared, “before I took Wealth Management, I never really thought about how even people who have a lot of money can lose it if they don’t know how to manage their money.”
Students have many opportunities across all high schools to deepen and broaden their business skills. Longmont High is home to the High School of Business focus program, where students get a head start on exploring their postsecondary interests in the field. Classes include Leadership, Wealth Management, Principles of Business, Business Economics, Principles of Marketing, Principles of Finance, Principles of Management, and Business Strategies. Longmont junior, Matthew Cash, shared, “my enrollment in this program gave me the confidence to take on new leadership positions such as editor-in-chief of the yearbook.”
The Early Grades Matter
Another enrichment opportunity is through St. Vrain’s partnership with the Young Americans Center, a local nonprofit focused on financial literacy programming for youth. The nonprofit offers a program called Young AmeriTowne, which introduces numerous financial topics to students and then culminates with them “running town” for the day. Students receive visits from local community members who represent various career fields. They then decide which job they will apply for based on availability. Those who decide they’d like to serve as an elected official of the town must deliver a campaign speech to their peers. When the roles are decided and the students run the town for a day, they encounter real-world problems. If they are a store manager, they will run out of inventory and need to problem-solve how to replenish items. Another student’s character may receive a medical bill and have to navigate making payments. Community Schools Coordinator, Susan Zimmerman, emphasized the program changes the students’ perspective on money, “I’ve heard students talk about how they can start their own business and share ideas on how they can make their own money.”
Entrepreneurship is all about identifying problems and creating solutions. Elementary schools across St. Vrain participate in student-driven Genius Hour projects, where students research a topic they are passionate about and create a way to share it. One fifth grade student at Indian Peaks Elementary School visited a local farmers market and decided to bring one to the school as their Genius Hour project. The idea generated interest from fellow students and teachers who collaborated to make the project a community success.
St. Vrain’s Nutrition Services worked with the students at Indian Peaks to connect them to local farmers who ultimately donated food to be used at the school farm stand. On the evening of the school farmer’s market, students led everything from sharing their knowledge of farmers markets and seasonal produce availability, to preparing the farmers market stand with fruits and vegetables, to handling all of the transactions at the event. “I learned that you need to use a lot of math during the market,” shared fifth grader, Jonathon Lopez. He continued, “working with money and people is an important skill.” The students decided to donate their earnings back to the school to be placed in the school fund for field trips and co-curricular activities.
Indian Peaks STEM Coordinator, Alexandra Downing, speaks passionately on the success of the project and how the whole community enjoyed learning about the students’ research and experience. “Entrepreneurship is part of student voice. Students get to choose their topic and create something that’s new and share it with the world. The Genius Hour process gives students confidence and character, which instills in them the belief that they can make a difference in the world – whether it’s a simple change to something that’s already been made or a brand new invention, they go through the process of creation and you witness them grow.”