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Entrepreneurial Program Catches On At Rural School
A rural Minnesota school with fewer than 500 students in K-12 has started an entrepreneurial program that’s created a lot of excitement - and profits - at the school.
Students either work in the school’s wood and metal shop making custom signs or in an outbuilding creating Pure Goodness Bath & Body products.
The school purchased a laser engraver and CNC plasma cutter through Sourcewell, a service cooperative that offers savings to schools. Working in the school’s wood and metal shop, students have all the tools they need for sign making and creating other items for sale.
Fifteen students elected to be part of the first year of the entrepreneur program that runs from late morning to early afternoon.
“Many students grab lunch and want to come back and work on their own time,” says shop teacher Mike Barthel, who works along with other staff members who teach bookkeeping, marketing and business skills.
Students work in teams to learn different aspects of the business, from creating the product to taking orders and customer relations.
“So many students don’t think they are able to own a business,” Barthel says. “In today’s day and age, you can reach anyone in the world online. This gets them to think that if they have a good idea, they can be their own boss.”
Besides making custom signs for farms and lake homes (ranging from $20 to $100), the student business is licensed to make signs with the North Dakota State University Bison logo. One student took the initiative to email the Scheels sporting goods store in Fargo, and the store agreed to sell the NDSU signs there.
Other students work at making products for Pure Goodness Bath & Body in the school’s football concession stand. Supplies and products are stored on wheeled racks that can be moved during home games.
“Students go to different stations including accounting and marketing, and they rotate so they get to experience all the areas of the business,” says Jenn Wolfenbarger, community education director who oversees the students. The bar soap making is more time consuming, so she and an assistant and one student take care of that. Other students, including some in the special education program, make other bath products and put together gift and sample collections.
Since starting in late 2018, students have already developed new products using goat milk, natural oils and fragrances, and essential oils.
The experience from the program pays off in many ways, even though students can’t be paid while earning class credits, Wolfenbarger says. Students who worked during the summer were paid, but during the school year they keep track of work time. Administration is working on a way to offer scholarships based on students’ time and profits made after material costs and other expenses.
She has been impressed with the skills and initiative students have shown in less than a year of the entrepreneur program. They were featured on a Fargo television station, followed by TV advertising that increased sales for the sign business, which is called NextGen Bears after the school’s mascot.
With more students interested in the entrepreneur class next year, teachers may need to set up an application process, and the school may need to add space to accommodate the business growth.
“It’s amazing to see the students blossom. From the beginning to now they have grown socially and matured having to work with the public and staff members,” she says.
“I think it’s more real education,” adds Barthel. “They work hard and see the real world connection. The names of students who constructed and packaged the items go on the invoice, so they learn the importance of doing the job right,” he adds.
Items can be purchased during school hours or online at the Pure Goodness and NextGen Bears websites.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, NextGen Bears, 310 Central Street S., Bertha, Minn. 56437 (ph 218 924-3282; www.puregoodnessmn.com; Facebook: Nextgenbears; jenn.wolfenbarger@isd786.org; sales@isd786.org).

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2020 - Volume #44, Issue #1