Opinion: Summer is season for entrepreneurship

Renate Matthews
Sticky notes and building blueprints act as tools for young entrepreneurs brainstorming ideas for how Ford should develop the Michigan Central Depot train station into an enticing workspace.

Students and teachers everywhere are looking forward to summer vacation. As a teacher, I’m excited for our students to create their own time and space and for our graduates to move on to the next phase of their life.

Yet of the 3.6 million students graduating U.S. high schools this year, many of them aren’t ready to face the world ahead.

The end of the school year provides a time for me to reflect on the state of our children’s education, and how as an educator, I can help provide your child with a lifetime of opportunity. Unfortunately, our education system has become very dependent on standardized testing to measure the success of students, teachers and schools. By doing this, we put performance above knowledge — forcing educators to focus on test results over actually helping our students learn and grow.

While I understand and support the need to use standard instruction and testing to make sure our students are progressing, I’ve seen the power of programs that provide our children with a hands-on experience to unlock their individual passions and abilities.

For the past 14 years, I have been working to empower my students to think for themselves and equip them with the tools to pursue their dreams. One way I’ve done that is through an elective course that is offered in nearly 280 schools across the country, including several right here in Detroit and the surrounding area.

Youth Entrepreneurs is a curriculum that teaches middle and high school students core entrepreneurial and economic concepts. Through experiential learning and character-building activities, we not only teach students about business, we help them become self-sufficient and provide a real-world education to help them succeed on their own terms.  

The experiential education model instills entrepreneurial and economic principles that inspire students to overcome barriers and seize opportunities for the betterment of themselves and others.

The workforce is changing, and the jobs for today’s graduates may not exist for next year’s class and the classes after that.  As teachers, we help our students create the opportunity to start their own businesses. This starts by making sure they are engaged in what we are teaching and that they are learning.

For example, part of the Youth Entrepreneurs course is to help students take their idea for a business and turn it into a profitable venture by the end of the course. Students take what they have learned throughout the year and create their own pop-up businesses during one day at school. The students learn about creating and marketing a business, they learn about how to manage it financially and at the end of the day they keep the profits they made.

They learn how to take out a micro-loan, target markets, wholesale shopping, forecasting inventory, negotiating prices, the need to pivot when necessary and benefit from the many lessons that can only be learned when you fail.

There are 10 schools that provide this curriculum today in Southeast Michigan and more schools will offer the program in the fall, when the students return from their summer vacations. I hope more follow their lead.

I’m constantly amazed by the enthusiasm the Youth Entrepreneurs course generates with my students and I look forward to seeing the program grow its support in our community. And see the community support the growth of our students to succeed in today’s constantly changing environment.

Renate Matthews is a teacher and Youth Entrepreneurs educator at Cornerstone Health & Technology High School, Detroit.