When students have great expectations - and creative teachers

Vasphi Etienne never dreamed her first job would involve more than flipping burgers at a local fast-food joint. But the junior at Media and Technology Charter High School in Boston decided to take a business class, and now she's director of finance and accounting at a wireless phone store.

"Working in a phone store is different from being in McDonald's," Vasphi says. "I like the whole idea of being in a store run by kids. We're our own boss."

The business course, which is in its first year, teaches sophomores and juniors how to keep detailed records, prepare monthly income statements, price and market items, and be good salespeople. Those who do well can further develop their skills at the newest of Boston's 400 Sprint PCS stores, which is open six days a week.

"It's a real mix of using language skills, critical thinking skills, public speaking skills, and math skills," says Jennifer Meyers, who teaches the course and oversees the store. "We talk about what entrepreneurship means, and the character you need to develop: courage, discipline, and perseverance."

What makes the class unique is the students' payback for working at the store. "Our kids get no cash," executive director Alan Safran says. "Their hourly pay goes directly into a college scholarship fund.

"Our hope is that, by getting a taste of business and entrepreneurship, and then going to a good college and coming back to their neighborhoods, some may start businesses there, and employ people, and help lift their neighborhoods out of poverty."

Ms. Meyers is thrilled at the class turnout - 10 juniors and 10 sophomores - considering their already hectic after-school schedules.

"It's amazing that I can get even 10 kids to come when they've got so much else going on," she says. "The class includes quizzes, exams, and homework, but they really want to learn about business."

Vasphi spends eight hours a week at the store after class and basketball practice. She hopes the job will help her get into one of her dream schools: Brown or Boston University.

Thanks to the job, Vasphi is taking steps toward funding that dream.

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