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These students have a (business) plan

At a Boston high school, entrepreneurship education boosts teens' business know-how.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 20, 2008

Business savvy: Fenway High School juniors shake hands with judges at the Blue Cross Blue Shield office in Boston during 'The Pitch,' the culmination of an entrepreneurial class.

courtesy of Rosemary sedgwick/fenway high school

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Standing before a phalanx of potential investors, three young women make the case for their high-end day care concept. They've written a 37-page business plan, and they confidently whip through a PowerPoint about their mission, budget, and marketing plan.

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Then they break into song like only teenagers can – a charming choreographed performance of their jingle.

Welcome to "The Pitch" – a culminating event for juniors at Fenway High School in Boston. In 14 weeks, each team of students has gone from not knowing what a business plan is to creating one and trying to sell it to a panel of professional adults, the hypothetical investors.

Entrepreneurship education is gaining popularity as a way to motivate students to master everything from math to public speaking. In the era of No Child Left Behind, it's hard for many schools to make room for entrepreneurial classes in their schedules. But groups that promote these classes, particularly in urban settings, are convinced that a curriculum about creating, financing, and owning a business can also nudge up test scores and graduation rates.

At Fenway, a high-performing public school, educators saw the value so clearly that they made the demanding "Ventures" class a requirement. The course carries into senior year with career exploration and an internship. It's one of many ways students here connect with the world beyond high school and practice the skills they'll need there.

Ventures "is about the ability to open doors for yourself in the adult work world," says Rosemary Sedgwick, who piloted the program a decade ago with funding from Adobe Systems and now is Fenway's director of development. "It leaves them with that entrepreneurial spirit that they can go out and make things happen."

Students are more engaged in school, many experts say, when lessons seem relevant and when projects have consequences beyond an assignment that only their teacher will see.

Ventures teacher and director Amy Carrier sets high standards for the business plans. She gets mentors to coach the teams as they conduct customer surveys and call businesses to research their ideas. "This is not the kind of class where a teacher can give a lecture," she says.

For Farah Jeune, creating marketing for the Play Place Palace day care sparked a career interest. She and her teammates took critiques from the judges in stride. One judge noticed that they hadn't budgeted for gasoline as part of their transportation service.

"The level of sophistication was unbelievable," says judge Linda Lanton, "because they targeted a particular market segment – the wealthy." She's the vice president of new ventures at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which hosted the event at its office, just a baseball's toss away from the school and the famed Fenway Park stadium.

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