Business projects look at the big picture

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

By David Vitrano


(First of two parts)

EDGARD – Dressed to the nines, some of sophomores at West St. John High School were all business Thursday. But that’s because they had to be as they presented their entrepreneurship projects to their teacher, James Kline, and a panel of judges comprised of local business leaders.

Thursday’s presentation was part of the project-based-learning initiative, introduced by Kline about a year-and-a-half ago. Kline said about 75 percent of the teachers at the school currently employ project based learning in one form or another.

The young business men and women, split into groups of between four and six, each presented the panel with a PowerPoint slideshow detailing their businesses, which ranged from treat shops to community services.

They explained business models and group organization and showed the evolution of their business plan from its inception through to its execution.

The members of each group all played specific roles, with one member as the CEO and the others filling in the necessary roles around him or her. The partners in each business raised startup funds and set profit goals, most of which were met and then some. Sweet Selects, which sold treats to fellow students at lunchtime, ended up with a profit of over $400.

Sweet Selects CEO Dashera Gros said she learned much about the working of a business through the project.

“We all had our own separate personalities, but we worked well together,” said Gros.

She continued,” Mr. Kline is one of the best teachers we ever had. It was a great experience.”

While all the businesses aimed to fill a void in the community, one group, Kids Inc., took that notion to another level. Their plan was to provided after school entertainment for area youth.

“There’s not much for kids to do but hang out in the streets,” said CEO Lester Rainey. The group sold tickets and provided chaperones, transportation and snacks for west bank children, who got to enjoy an evening roller-skating.

Rainey also recognized the value of his supporting cast.

“I picked my teammates because I knew they all had something to offer,” he said. “I couldn’t have done anything without them.”

Their efforts did not go unnoticed by the judges.

“You really identified a need in this area,” said OJ Breech, chair of the River Region Multicultural Chamber of Commerce.

Following the presentations, each group came to front for compliments and cricisms from the day’s judges, RTC President Bill Ironside, Louisiana Federal Credit Union President Rhonda Hotard, Pam Jack and Mark Boudoin, both of Dow, St. John Parish Business Association President Richard Drexel and Breech.

The young entrepreneurs received praise for changing their business models to fit the situation and for thinking outside of the box with special incentive programs such as a punch card that rewarded frequent customers with freebies.

Boudoin also complimented the dress of the groups.

“I think when you look good, you feel good, and you do good,” he said.

Breech offered perhaps the most encouraging words of the day, however. She said the group that ended up with the highest score will receive a startup package from the RRMCC that will include a variety of promotional tools.

Hotard likewise recognized the potential in these young adults.

“You can tell they spent a lot of time on the projects,” she said. “A couple had real leadership qualities.”

Kline, who would also like to see as many of these businesses continue beyond report card time, said of his students, “I think they did exceptionally well. They were excited and motivated.”

He added, “We’re going to try to keep these businesses alive.”

He said he envisions the school as a hub for development in the west bank community.

Whether the students choose to continue with their businesses is ultimately up to them, but at least they will be prepared.

Latisha Jupiter, CFO of the group Huckabooku, said, “We learned about what it takes to run a business and how hard it could be.”

(Wednesday: English projects presented)