Learning the (business) ropes in school
Marketing and entrepreneurship expert Ann Stewart will be presenting at the Iowa Business Education Convention, which kicks off on Sept. 30 at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Urbandale. She is a teacher from Smyrna, Tenn.
After working for 25 years in the high-tech industry, Stewart turned her attention to education and hasn’t looked back. As a teacher, she facilitated the development and opening of the school district’s first full-service, in-school coffee shop. As the career and technical education (CTE) department chair at Stewarts Creek High School (Tenn.), she directs the Entrepreneurship Center for the school, a four-year entrepreneurship curriculum for non-marketing students. As the lead DECA advisor, Stewart heads Stewarts Creek Marketplace, a shopping center in the school that includes the Creekside Coffee Shop, Stewarts Creek Design (print shop), Creekside Bank, and Hawk's Nest Bookstore.
Below, Stewart talks about the value of school-based enterprises and shares her knowledge and experience implementing and fostering in-school entrepreneurial opportunities for students.
What is a school-based enterprise?
School-based enterprises are student-run businesses that operate in a school setting. When developed and operated effectively, they provide students with valuable employability, academic and technical skills. Students get first-hand experience in connecting classroom learning with a real-world business.
What are the key features of school-based enterprises?
The most important feature of a successful school-based enterprise is that it has to be student led and student driven. You will quickly find out that students will do just about anything when they take ownership and they have the authority to make decisions. When done right, students are able to see the entire business process from start to finish.
It is important to remember that a school-based enterprise is more than a part-time job. High-quality, school-based enterprises are integrated with classroom curriculum and DECA membership.
What is DECA?
DECA is a career and technical student organization (CTSO) that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.
DECA is organized into two unique student divisions, each with programs designed to address the learning styles, interest and focus of its members. The High School Division includes 200,000 members nationwide in 3,500 schools. The Collegiate Division includes over 15,000 members in 275 colleges and universities.
More than just clubs or extracurricular activities, CTSOs like DECA are integral to high-performing career and technical education (CTE) programs. They enhance classroom learning through authentic real-world experiences and provide a leadership component to the education program.
What makes a school-based enterprise successful?
There are a lot of things that go into making a school-based enterprise successful. The three biggest are integration, student-run, and consistency.
Integration. School-based enterprises should not operate in isolation. They need to be tied to curriculum. Providing students with a real-life businesses to operate gives them an opportunity to truly understand the business and marketing skills they are learning in the classroom. Concepts illustrated through work in the school-based enterprise become concrete skills that students can transfer to their first jobs, internships, college and beyond.
In addition, our students working in the stores are required to participate in DECA. They don’t have to be in the first two years of the entrepreneurship program, but do have to be members by their junior year in order to participate in school-based enterprise.
Student-run. Guide students, but let them make the decisions. If the teacher directs this, the kids don’t buy in. Students can learn just as much by doing something wrong and learning from it. They can’t learn to make decisions by following directions; they learn by making decisions. For that reason, everything in our school-based enterprises is student designed and student produced. Right now the students are working on their holiday promotions and seasonal selections in the coffee shop, all of which must fall in line with federal Smart Snack guidelines.
Consistency. Even though this is a learning experience, it still needs to operate like a business. Make sure you are open when you say you are. We are open Tuesday through Friday during fourth period which is our lunch hour. The coffee shop does open before school from 7:30 to 8:20. Showing up to work is part of the job and it affects each student’s grade. Monday is our classroom day where students have access to the books and do things like ordering and invoicing.
How does your school-based enterprise integrate with your curriculum?
We have a four-year entrepreneurship program that starts freshman year. The pathway starts with courses in entrepreneurship foundations and ethical leadership. This leads into entrepreneurship 1 and the practicum where the students run their own business. The freshman and sophomore years are spent gearing up and preparing for the junior year practicum. We do projects early on to get them ready for that experience. For instance, every year we do a breakfast kiosk challenge where groups of students have $100 to run their kiosk for three days to see who can make the most money.
Who oversees the program?
When I first started it was just me, but now we have a team of teachers who work and support the school-based enterprises. We have a teacher facilitator in each of the different service areas. I also have two seniors who help oversee the businesses. In addition, all students are cross trained so they can all help out when needed.
Why should schools consider starting a school-based enterprise?
In addition to generating revenue for your school and DECA chapter, a school-based enterprise can also be a powerful learning tool. When you watch students go from “I have no idea how to do this” to having them in charge during their junior year – running the store, understanding the financials, seeing profits – it is a light bulb moment. Students will always learn more from real-world experiences than from completing a project at the end of a unit.
Our students are working really hard this year to earn enough to attend DECA nationals in Orlando. We aren’t doing any fundraising, it is all from the school-based enterprise profits. Since the beginning of August we are already sitting on about $5,000 in profits.
What advice do you have for schools that are interested in starting a school-based enterprise?
I am not going to lie, it is scary to start. You have a million questions running through your head. How are you going to keep kids busy? How will I make them behave? Do I have the time to do this?
The best advice I have is to start small and make sure the kids are involved from the beginning. An easy way to get started is to sell homecoming T-shirts or class T-shirts. You can also put together a spirit package for incoming freshmen and have them available to purchase when students are coming for orientation. But be careful not to over purchase until you know what you can sell.
Also, commercial coffee vendors will often donate the equipment if you agree to use them as your supplier. Find out who the vendors are in your area and have the students reach out to them. Our students did a full business proposal and pitched it to our administration for approval.
And always look at what changes you need to make for the next year. Even after more than 10 years, I still learn something new every year.