New public school teaching structure shows promising results, but will Calgary follow suit?

Public schools in Austin, Texas, are implementing an interactive business education program from kindergarten to Grade 12, with impressive results. Currently, no Calgary schools offer a similar program for students in this age range – something some business-minded residents think should change.

Craig Shapiro is the principal of David Crockett High School, the first high school to implement the Crockett Entrepreneurship Program in southern Austin. He says the program’s objective is to teach students how to apply their knowledge in real world situations.

“One of the major problems that I’m facing as a principal, and most other principals are facing, is this idea that kids are now risk-adverse,” says Shapiro. “Their creativity has been drained through the constant testing, and kids don’t want to be wrong.”

The program aims to change that, first by introducing students to a new type of learning environment, starting in elementary school. They call it a “micro-society.” Each grade operates a specific business, which steadily gets more advanced as the students progress to higher grades. The students also experience what it is like to interact with external forces, such as radio stations, a city council, and a mayor, through the lens of their businesses’ needs.

Shapiro says that by the time they are in junior high school, students will go on to code and create their own video games, which teaches them about the cycle of creation all the way to producing a final product.

“The idea is to push them through cycles, and have them learn how to fail,” he adds.

“The classroom we built for them looks like Google. It doesn’t look like rows or desks; it’s literally an office space that you would find in any major corporation today,” says Craig Shapiro, principle of David Crockett High School, of the new educational structure his school is implementing. Photo courtesy of Allison Meier, Creative CommonsAfter that, in high school, students will use all the skills they have developed over the years to create a business model to pitch to real-life investors. In their senior year, students will actually run the businesses that they have created.

“The classroom we built for them looks like Google,” says Shapiro. “It doesn’t look like rows or desks; it’s literally an office space that you would find in any major corporation today.”

Shapiro says that he can already see his students responding positively to the program and others like it. Meanwhile, parents have responded with feedback that their children are now actually “excited” about learning. The school’s graduation rate rose from 74 per cent to 94 per cent, the dropout rate decreased from 5.7 per cent to 1 per cent, and the attendance rate increased from 88 per cent to 95 per cent since the implementation of the entrepreneur program, and other interactive classroom experiences like it, earlier this year.

However, despite the promising evidence from this kind of success story, Calgary primary and secondary schools have yet to put a similar program like that of Crockett Entrepreneurship into effect.

Karen Ryhorchuk, a senior communications specialist for the Calgary Catholic School District, says that Catholic high schools offer quite a few programs related to business education, ranging from customer service to marketing. According to Ryhorchuk, Calgary Catholic schools work with Junior Achievement, a non-profit organization aimed at providing business and free enterprise education to students from grades 5 through 12.

At a high school level, students have the option to work with Junior Achievement in an after school program that gives them the opportunity to create a business. However, Ryhorchuk did not mention other business education options in grades below the junior level.

The Crockett Entrepreneurship Program, based out of David Crockett High School in Austin, Texas, hopes that by applying a new interactive business structure to public education systems, they can better teach students how to succeed in business from a younger age. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Mueller, Creative CommonsAs for the Calgary public school system, media representatives did not respond to a request for comment. Currently, the public school curriculum provides similar business study options to those available for Catholic students.

However, a program called the Career and Technology Foundations Program of Studies – which would teach students in grades 5 to 9 about different skills and technologies by working with community members – is pending approval from provincial leadership.

Judy McMillan-Evans, an instructor at MRU, SAIT, and Bow Valley College, and leader in post-secondary entrepreneurship education, believes that Calgary primary and secondary schools should have more business options available for students of all ages. Evans said she admires the Crockett Entrepreneurship Program and was ecstatic when she first heard about it.

“I was telling my husband this morning, I said, ‘I have been in meetings since the early 1980s talking about the fact that entrepreneurship needs to be in the high schools.’ It can start [as early as] Grade 1,” says Evans.

Evans acknowledges that while options are available for high school students that want to pursue business education, she says they are “not as accessible as they should be.”

She believes that business education should start at an early age, because everything in life involves business in some form or another. She also says that when students have the opportunity to apply their knowledge, it sticks with them and makes the learning “relevant.”

“When you sit down and talk with little kids ages four to six, they actually understand the game of business and the basics of it. That’s how they live their lives, ‘Well I want, so I will get,’” says Evans.

“I think [the Crockett program] opens the door for ideas. It helps [students] to understand how they can be in charge of their own livelihood and their own future.”

Similarly, two Mount Royal University students here in Calgary, both pursuing business degrees, believe that kids would respond positively to more business influence in their primary and secondary education. Mackenzie Myles and Carly Fielding of ReCreate help elementary and middle school students learn about the world of business through fun activities.

Carly Fielding (left) and Mackenzie Myles are two Mount Royal University students involved with ReCreate, a project created by the university’s student group Enactus. The project teaches students in grades 4 to 7 to reduce their environmental footprint, mainly by making crafts out of recyclable materials. Photo by Amber McLinden “I think [business education is] super important, because I didn’t really have anything like that and I came into school and I was going into business and I wasn’t really sure. It helps put some real-life perspective on everything,” says Fielding, ReCreate’s project lead.

Created in 2012, ReCreate is helmed by students of Mount Royal University’s Enactus group. The project teaches students in grades 4 to 7 how to reduce their environmental footprint through the process of making crafts out of waste or recycled materials. After the crafts are complete, the kids sell their products, with proceeds going to charity.

Fielding and Myles both agree that an entrepreneurship model like the Crockett Program in Austin would be of the most value to younger students, because the traditional system has yet to stifle their creativity.

“Having that build-up so it’s not so intimidating, so from K to 9, they really understand what entrepreneurship is… I think that’s what they need to really focus on,” says Myles.

“Entrepreneurship is all about being innovative and that’s something that schools should absolutely be harvesting and cultivating.”

Fielding and Myles feel that by implementing more interactive business programs for younger students, not only will they learn the standard curriculum, but it will also help them to enjoy their educational experience more.

“You’re going to get kids a lot more engaged in their learning when they find it intrinsically valuable,” Myles says. “It’s just a fact.”

Thumbnail courtesy of Anna Kouwenberg, Creative Commons.

pmcaleer@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this story is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca