Thursday, June 21, 2018

Bay Area students’ building entrepreneurial mindsets in high school

As high school students start thinking about their futures and exploring different career paths, they often try to visualize themselves in a role or doing different types of work.

One Bay Area school is taking this a step further by  offering students a glimpse into a variety of careers. It’s all part of a unique year-long program called, “Expeditions” allowing students to benefit from practical experiences like internships, hands- on instruction and project-based learning. Expeditions is a special program at Summit offered for two-week periods, four times throughout the year. Instructors focus on preparing a diverse student population for success in college and to become contributing members of society by helping them to discover new interests, explore existing ones, and dive into authentic experiences that will get students out of the classroom and into the world.

“I am a firm believer of the importance of my students developing risk-taking and critical-thinking mindsets. And even though most of my students will not become entrepreneurs or business owners, they can use these skills to succeed in whatever future they choose to pursue,” said Aaron Calvert, who teaches the entrepreneurship course at Summit Public Schools.

Four times a year, these students dive deep into their roles as entrepreneurs and build their ideas and skills throughout the year.

In May, a group of Calvert’s students participated in the Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Summit, bringing together students in Santa Clara County who are part of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) programs. Two of his eight students advanced to the second round of the semi-final business plan competition. Events and organizations such as NFTE offer an extra sense of what it means to have an entrepreneurial mindset. It offers an environment where students feel supported and encouraged to think a certain way.  

A sense of risk-taking and failing forward is one of the most important abilities students develop throughout the year, according to Calvert. Students are encouraged to take calculated risks, to take chances, and be comfortable with uncertainty. Very different than other classes where students are rarely told it's good to make mistakes. But according to Calvert, that “safest path possible” attitude is anathema to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs must be  willing to challenge common assumptions, try something new, and learn from, rather than fear, failure.

By developing an entrepreneurial mindset, students can find and feed their passions. They have the power to make what they want and what truly matters to them. This increases students’ buy-in to the course and to school. Students can choose to make businesses that provide countless numbers of products or services. They can feed their classmates, tutor other students, design their own clothing or games, and give back to their communities. Through these efforts, they help others and themselves.

Calvert has enjoyed watching numerous students become more engaged in their school work and feed their passions in his class. One student, Emily, started the year as a shy freshman. In the first week, she shared her love of clothing and desire to be a fashion designer. Calvert encouraged her to follow her passion and develop a sketch for a dress. Together, they calculated the cost to make one dress and how to describe her marketplace. On her own time, she turned that sketch into a reality by sewing a prototype at home.

Over the rest of the year, she developed a production schedule, completed market research about her  customer base and  competitors, looked at how she could market her designs, and  and fine-tuned her presentation skills. In the final weeks of the class,  Emily pulled all of these lessons together to create a complete business plan.   

Did you take a class in high school that shaped your career as an adult? Share in the comments below!

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