Could the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg be sitting in class right now in the District?
More importantly, are there students whose lives could be improved if they learned the ins and outs of running a business?
That’s why a growing number of local organizations are working to arm those students — whether they want to become the country’s next technology icon or the city’s next supermarket owner — with the business skills they need to succeed. And while they share a common goal, each program takes a different approach, raising questions over how, and even if, you can effectively teach entrepreneurship.
“Many young people naturally have an entrepreneurial spirit, and many of them have great ideas, but what they don’t have are the technical skills,” Tricia Granata, executive director of the District’s Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, part of a national nonprofit, said. “We can teach them things to make sure that innate entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t get wasted.”
Extending outside the schools
Where should those skills be taught? Edward Grenier, president of Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization that teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurship to students in kindergarten through high school, argued that entrepreneurship education must move beyond the classroom.
“It needs to be brought into the world where business happens,” said Grenier, whose group has been training local business leaders to work with students since 1965. “In an academic setting, students will learn, sure, but I don’t know how much they’re going to be inspired or how much they’ll retain.”
That’s not to say the group doesn’t work with schools. Junior Achievement operates two “finance parks” at schools in Fairfax County and Prince George’s County, in which it brings in students from the surrounding area to teach basic financial literacy and money management skills, and it works with school officials to ensure some of those same lessons get into their core curriculums.
Teaching the teachers
The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE (commonly pronounced “Nifty”), takes a similar approach in that it trains adults to teach business skills to students. However, Granata’s group’s approach revolves around the classroom, and she pushed back against the notion that entrepreneurship can’t be taught in school.
“I get that question all the time, especially from potential donors, about whether we can really teach entrepreneurship,” Granata said. “My answer is yes, that what these students need and what we can teach them are important skills: how to network, how to engage with customers, how investments work.”
NFTE offers training programs to teachers at middle and high schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods across the country. Once teachers graduate from the course, they return to their schools and can offer a year- or semester-long entrepreneurship class as an elective, during which every student designs his or her own business plan.
Near the end of the year, the regional chapters of the organization hold business plan competitions and award small amounts of seed money to the winning students.
More than a half million students have taken one of the group’s classes since the organization got started in New York in 1987. NFTE’s most recent alumni survey shows that students who participate have higher high school graduation rates, higher rates of employment and self-employment, and higher incomes than the national averages.
Chante Goodwin, who took a NFTE class during her senior year at Suitland High School in Forestville, says the program resonated with her and her peers largely because the teacher made the lessons tangible and immediately relevant to teenagers.
“In high school, the most important part was seeing how we could really make money from what we were learning,” Goodwin said. “Senior pictures were coming up, prom was coming up, and in a low-income school, that was what got students interested.”
“Suddenly,” she added, “people in my other classes who sat in the back and didn’t care were sitting up and listening and participating.”
Goodwin started a computer repair company that year called Your Way Computer Services, for which she won top honors at the region’s business plan competition and was later offered an internship at a technology company owned by one of the judges. She went on to attend George Washington University and has since built her business (now Your Way IT Solutions) into a full-service technology support and consulting firm serving several government clients in Washington.
“Some of my other classmates are still running their businesses today, too,” she said.
Read original article at the Washington Post.