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Austin High Schoolers to Practice Life Skills As Entrepreneurs-in-Training

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Crocket HS Principal Craig Shapiro walks down the school halls among students after the launch of a new entrepreneurship program.

Some public schools in South Austin are teaching students how to become business leaders. They’ve implemented an entrepreneurship program for kindergartners through high school seniors that’s the first of its kind in the U.S. The Austin Independent School District unveiled the program at Crockett High School yesterday. 

What can elementary school students learn about being an entrepreneur?  First grader Cambelle Clements says she’s already learned a lot about how to make and sell things. This year, for instance, her class made "leaf people."

“We get the leaves off the tree, real leaves, and then we glue them on to a paper, and then we make their faces, and then we sell them," she explains.

Cambelle goes to Cunningham Elementary, which is one of two elementary schools who're implementing an educational program they call a "microsociety." In one of these microsocieties, students from each grade level run different types of businesses to learn various life skills, like communication or how to empathize with others.

By the time students get to fifth grade, they run the microsociety, with a mayor, a city manager, and a radio station.

In middle school, students learn how to code and develop websites and video games. Sixth grader Gauge Villareal says he likes that it makes school more hands on.

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
The Austin Independent School District unveiled a new entrepreneurship program at Crocket High School Tuesday.

“It’s more being social than bringing out textbooks and going through a page and doing work," he says.

In high school, students learn more concrete ways to run a business. In their junior year, they’ll create an idea and pitch it to actual investors, like contestants on TV's Shark Tank. Investors will fund the projects, which students will run their senior year. 

“There’s no teachers nagging you to do work. It’s ‘you get it done or you don’t have a product to show your client or customer,’” says Iza Castillo, a freshman in the program. 

Crockett High School Principal Craig Shapiro says the program prepares students for the future in real ways:

“Kids today want to see why they’re learning what they’re learning," Shapiro says. "They get to practice soft skills and still learn all of the TEKS required by the state, but do it in such a way now that they’re now performance[-based], instead of just taking a test and getting a grade back and forth.”

Most of the program is paid for by the Bazaarvoice Foundation with some federal and district money as well.

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