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Thursday, April 2, 2015

The 11 Year Old Entrepreneurs of Scoil Mhuire

A visitor to Scoil Mhuire last Wednesday would have thought, upon walking in to the 5th class room, that they had entered the wrong building; the class more resembled a bustling office than an elementary school classroom. Between 9:00 and 11:30 in the morning, the class was in full-scale business mode with students writing invoices, drawing mock-ups, organizing and conducting meetings, calculating finances, and making sales.

This year, 5th class at Scoil Mhuire is participating in the Junior Entrepreneur Programme. JEP is a program set up in most counties of Ireland aimed at promoting entrepreneurship in junior (elementary) schools. Within the program, students are asked to create a business, design a product, and sell it. The project culminates in a Showcase Day in which students present on the process they underwent throughout the project. Ultimately, the goals of JEP are to promote entrepreneurship in schools, to educate teachers on the value of entrepreneurial education, to help students recognize their diverse skills, and to establish connections between the school, the community, and the parents.

In early January, students in my class were divided into groups and asked to design a product and present it to a panel of “dragons” (the headmistress and two members of Cork's business sector). The dragons then worked with the class to decide which idea would be the most plausible and marketable. The chosen idea was a business called “Safety Style” which sells customized high-visibility vests. After selecting their product, students met with a business professional to learn about businesses. Then, they developed Safety Style by forming teams including a sales team, a design team, a finance team, and a public relations/storytelling team. Each team was given certain responsibilities and together, the class conducted market research and further developed their product.

This Wednesday, students were able to deliver their first order, a significant achievement for their business. When they delivered the order to the customer, the students’ commitment to the project and to their roles was clear. The public relations team took the opportunity to photograph the event for their Showcase Day, the finance team quickly created an invoice for the customer, and the sales department was pleased to perform quality assurance before handing the vests to the customer. Throughout the morning, students used economic terminology and were incredibly self-sufficient. In addition to delivering their first order, the class also had a meeting with their supplier to discuss their own vest order. Much to the excitement of the students, the supplier is sponsoring a customized vest for each student in the class to help them promote their product. This morning the class also had a meeting with the headmistress of the school to discuss a prospective order. Students were incredibly professional throughout these meetings. It was clear that JEP has had tremendous effects on the students’ self-confidence as well as their entrepreneurial interests.

Not only is JEP clearly appreciated by the students in my class, but my CT is also fully committed to the project. I think one of the reasons JEP is going so well in my class is because of my CT’s professional approach to the project. She speaks to the students as business partners, using corporate lingo that I barely understand. Students know that she has high expectations for their work and there is a shared sense of potential in the class. By creating this supportive and student-centered environment, I believe that my CT has maximized the benefits of JEP while avoiding potential obstacles. One such obstacle that my CT has avoided is the stigma over whole project was chosen. My CT consistently speaks of Safety Style as “our” company and of the vests as “our” idea, promoting the idea of collective responsibility.

JEP has clearly influenced one student in the class in an unintended manner. At the inventing stage, Student M created a business named “Balloontastic Art,” that designed decorated yarn models. She created beautiful samples for the panel to see, but her idea was ultimately rejected by the dragons. Despite this rejection, Student M followed through with her idea and has developed a company out of it. One of the dragons ended up ordering several of her models to decorate his bar on St. Patrick’s Day. With permission of the school, Student M set up a stand each morning last week to advertise and sell her decorations to fellow students, with much success. Her clear dedication and perseverance have paid off both financially and academically as my CT often asks Student M for guidance with the JEP project due to the success of her own business.

I think this project or one like it has a lot of potential and could be immensely successful in the US. The program could easily be adapted to incorporate common core standards and would be particularly useful in schools committed to social justice and developing a sense of community. I think businesses in the US would also be in support of the program due to the popularity of start-ups like Apple and the decline of entrepreneurship in America. Upon research, I have found that there are several programs that offer similar entrepreneur programs for elementary schools in the US such as Bizworld and Junior Achievement. While these programs exist and seem to be fairly popular from what I found on their websites, I wonder why I had not heard of them until now. I hope to learn more about these programs and see if I can incorporate them into my future classrooms as I have seen how successful JEP has been here in Cork.

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