BY BRIAN RZEPPA
Created last year to give students the opportunity to develop real-world business and occupational skills, the Virtual Enterprise program and Trenton High School has been a hit by every definition of the world.
Recently the class traveled to Chicago to participate in the Great Lakes Trade Show, a competition where students from 60 schools across Michigan, Indiana and Illinois meet to face off in a variety of different events.
With the help of teacher Christopher Crews and others, the Trenton Virtual Enterprise class and their business known as “Firm Roasted” was able to capture first place in Impact Marketing, second place in Salesmanship and had top ten finishes in Print Ad, Brochure and Catalog.
While the strong finishes in competitions such as this one are certainly positive for the students being able to participate, what’s more important is the hands-on experience that just can’t be replicated within the classroom.
Given the value of real-world experience within the realm of business, Crews found himself intrigued by the idea of Virtual Enterprise, and thought that it would be a major benefit to the students at Trenton.
“Virtual Enterprise is a non-profit firm out of New York that exists to provide curriculum support to classrooms. They develop software that allows us to start a business in any field we like, and then we go through the process of setting up and running it (paperwork, loan applications, attracting investors, etc.),” Crews said.
By going through each of these steps as a class and assigning students to different roles such as CEO or Accountant, the class is able to see what it takes to not only start a business, but also to succeed.
Their performance as a business in Chicago was ideal, but they’ve also done well in competitions in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and finished top 10 in the state at Cleary College in December.
The results that they have seen from each of the competitions are no fluke either, as preparation for each of the events happens each and every day that the students are participating in the class.
“We practice things like elevator pitches in class, but a lot of it just comes from actually going in and doing things. For example, Ryan Lynch did our marketing impact board and he taught himself Microsoft Publisher and through trial and error got to the point where he was doing pretty good work with it.” Crews said.
The class itself stands as preparation for each of the events, but Crews has been able to bring in people all throughout the school to make sure that they are ready for any competition that may come their way.
“One of the competitions is the speed interview and while I’ve interviewed people in the past, it’s been over 15 years since I did that for a living. Gary Schwartz, the human resources director for Trenton Public Schools, came in and helped us prepare, as did Ms. Lambert and Mr. Diroff.”
With the help that they received from a multitude of sources, students were able to feel more comfortable going into the competition, and they were able to develop skills that will undoubtedly help them as they move into college and beyond.
The students out of this year’s class showed these skills, like leadership and the ability to multitask, in spades.
“Our CEO Kendall Shram has taken it upon herself to make sure that everything gets done the way it’s supposed to and has really had an eye for completing broad range goals. Along with her, Kate Plassman has done a phenomenal job in both our accounting and marketing departments.” Crews said. “At one of our competitions, Kate was dressed up and getting ready to do an interview and before she went in, I saw her helping put the flooring down for our booth. It was really a testament to the type of worker that she is.”
Though it’s still in its infancy, the Virtual Enterprise program through Trenton High School has proven to be a success and Crews looks forward to seeing the different ways in which it can enrich his students’ educational experience.
“Through programs like this, you’re developing transferrable skills. Things like teamwork, communication, technological skills, they’re all things that you’ll need to succeed in the 21st century. Along with that, I’m a big believer in doing things, whether it’s auto shop or woodshop or business, you’re learning a whole set of problem solving skills that you can’t duplicate in a classroom setting.”
By seeing programs like this implemented by Crews and other teachers of his ilk, students may be finding themselves more prepared to meet the challenges that they will face in the real world.