A Charleston-based nonprofit is trying to get kids thinking early about entrepreneurship, even if their products are lemonade, fruit snacks, school supplies and pet rocks.
Gene Coulson said a $100,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission — an economic development partnership among the federal government and state and local governments — and a $25,000 grant from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation allowed his organization to start a pilot program last fall in Calhoun, Gilmer and Lincoln counties, which the ARC labels as “distressed.”
Through the program, Coulson said his nonprofit, the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education or EntreEd, has recognized several schools in those counties as America’s Entrepreneurial Schools.
He said not all counties may be able to land large employers like Procter & Gamble, which is building a $500 million factory in Berkeley County, but students could learn to start their own local small businesses.
Coulson said his group — where he’s the only full-time worker alongside three contracted employees — created the America’s Entrepreneurial Schools designation as a “hook” to get schools interested in their proposal for increasing entrepreneurship education, and he wants to expand the designation in West Virginia and to other states.
He said he wants schools to get even their youngest children involved, so those students have entrepreneurship on their minds by the time they are in middle and high school and choosing courses that’ll put them in particular career pathways. He said entrepreneurship-related groups, like DECA, that are for older students often have “excess capacity” because kids haven’t previously been thinking about entrepreneurship.
“It doesn’t require an awful lot more commitment of time or resources,” Coulson said of earning the designation. He said teachers can integrate entrepreneurship into the education standards they’re already required to teach, but schools must find some way to reach every student with entrepreneurship education in order to earn the designation.
Lincoln County’s Hamlin Pk-8 was among the schools to earn the new designation during the 2015-16 school year. Principal Rebecca Ferguson said a teacher, Lori Huffman, and herself received free training, including lesson plans, for how to increase entrepreneurship education in their roughly 500-student school.
Ferguson said classes created stores selling items like school supplies, and the school also added classes in subjects like finance, graphic art, hospitality and agriculture. She said the school grew food in a garden and had a construction/maintenance class that took work orders from teachers.
She also said kids raised $900 selling lemonade in three hours as part of the school’s Relay For Life fundraiser, which raised a total $1,500 for the American Cancer Society. She credited kids’ enjoyment of the entrepreneurship education to improved attendance, and hopes to continue the program next school year.
“I think it gave our students ownership in something,” Ferguson said. “... It’s hard to put it into words. I think so many times we lose our kids, especially in middle school, because they don’t have that drive to learn just math and reading.”
Charles Thomas, principal of Arnoldsburg Elementary, said his 238-student school in Calhoun County had classes at various grade levels selling different things: prekindergartners selling custom-made pencil toppers that cover erasers, kindergartners selling necklaces and bracelets, first graders selling pet rocks and homemade Play-Doh and older kids selling custom items like scarves.
Thomas said the school also held a bazaar, advertised by the kids, where the public could purchase students’ items, and Arnoldsburg raised over $3,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which treats childhood cancer and other diseases. He said the program helped students learn how to budget and count money, and he hopes to make it more realistic next year by possibly having kids work on a business license.
“We looked at the program as just one part of trying to build leadership skills in the students,” Thomas said.
The other schools that have earned the designation are Calhoun County Middle/High, the Calhoun-Gilmer Career Center, Gilmer County High, Guyan Valley Middle, Lincoln County High and West Hamlin Elementary.
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