Jumping the Shark

A Georgia district exposes students to real-world challenges of business ownership

Michelle Healy

Some career and tech programs have students cook, build, or design something. Others have them do that and jump into a shark tank.

The real-world challenges of business ownership, including trying to win the approval of local investment “sharks,” are at the heart of a CTE program in entrepreneurship taught in several of Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Students take a personal interest, hobby, or skill and attempt to turn it into a profitable business that can be quickly started and at minimal cost, says Cindy Quinlan, the work‐based learning coordinator and marketing instructor at Brookwood High School in Snellville, who oversees the program.

“If they are really into computer programming or social media, or video broadcasting, they can start a business related to that. I had a student start a business where he filed highlight reels for high school athletes trying to get college scholarships,” says Quinlan, noting that learning what it takes to start and operate a business “is career tech as well.”

Lessons in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity also come into play in the course, says Quinlan, who in November was named National Teacher of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education.

Through an alliance with the city of Snellville, local businesses, and other area high schools, each student business is provided local entrepreneur mentorship, a specially issued business license, and a chance to earn startup funding by pitching their business to a judging panel modeled after the ABC TV show, Shark Tank.

In 2015, the jury gave the Best Young Entrepreneur of the Year award (and $515 in startup funding) to Jim Walker for Phoenix Ironworks, a custom knife company. (https://phoenixironworkscutlery.wordpress.com)

In 2014, Erica Mills and Caitlin Costello, took the top prize (and $1,000) for their landscaping business, Weed ’Em & Reap. (http://weedemandreaponline.weebly.com/contact.html)

The program is now replicated in eight high schools in the district. It also has been revamped as a ninth-grade entrepreneurship class with an embedded language arts component, and it was used to help design the curriculum for the Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship at the district’s new career-focused Discovery High School.

Read more about trends in career and technical education in Michelle Healy’s article, “Future Ready.”

Michelle Healy (mhealy@nsba.org) is American School Board Journal’s staff writer.

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