It looks like an untidy cube of packing flats stacked in the woods, stuffed with bricks, straw, cardboard and other materials. But it’s actually the first step in an innovative entrepreneurial education.
For their first year of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s (SCH) K-12 Sands Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) program, the 2016-17 kindergarten girls decided to make a “MiniBeast Mansion” — a home in the woods for hibernating insects.
CEL Program Manager Jessica Stokes said that CEL project learning for even the youngest students gets them out of the classroom for real-world impact. An insect expert visited the classroom and teachers helped the students assemble what they’d need. Kindergarten science teacher Carie Szalay and Stokes took the class into the adjacent woods, where they assembled a “hotel for bugs.”
“The idea behind [CEL] was to ensure that our students are not just ready for college when they leave SCH, but ready to make a lasting impact on the world around them,” said CEL Executive Director Edward Glassman.
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The program, which launched six years ago and integrates project-based learning at all grade levels with the regular curriculum, fosters an “entrepreneurial mindset,” which Glassman said combines resiliency, resourcefulness, creative problem-solving and “an opportunity-seeking lens.”
It’s an in-depth, multi-tiered project. The students researched regions of the world most challenged by poverty and identified Kiva loan recipients there to whom they wanted to direct funds. Then, they brainstormed their own mini business ventures at school, and used the proceeds from those ventures to grant micro-loans to the targeted borrowers.
“Then, they track the results of their loan investments, and see the real-world difference in the lives of people challenged by poverty,” Glassman said. When the loans are repaid, the students can redirect the funds to new borrowers.
Stokes said programs in the lower grades are meant to lay the groundwork for creating longer-term, actionable businesses and projects later on. Then, when students get to middle and high school, “they’re going to have a passion for that project that they want to grow with and launch.”
CEL extends into an optional after-school program for selected students called the Venture Incubator (CELVI).
“The Venture Incubator is the program where the students take the skills they’ve gained in these classes, and apply those to a project of their own volition, based on their own passions and interests,” Glassman said. “It’s basically a seven-week business boot camp.”
Springside also raises money for seed capital to qualifying Venture Incubator projects.
CELVI alum Annabel Grove, a Springside senior, has already taken her concept to the next level. She founded the nonprofit Philly Phit, which combines nutrition education and “fun fitness” to encourage healthy living for youngsters and help prevent childhood obesity. A team of Philly Phit high school volunteers have worked with 75 School District of Philadelphia kindergarten students and are now running a six-month program at the Boys and Girls Club of America in Wissahickon.
Grove began CELVI as a sophomore and said she learned a lot — “economic models, business plans, grant proposals and managing a team.”
“All of the skills I have learned from CEL and the trial-and-error process that led to Philly Phit’s success have given me experience that I intend to use to build my own business in the future,” she said: She’s particularly interested in the communications and nonprofit realms.
Glassman said this is a common direction for CELVI youth.
“What’s been really inspiring to me,” he said, “is that the students who put in the effort, raise the money and launch are more often than not the students who are working in the nonprofit space.”
Want to check out some CEL projects in person? Springside is hosting a public trade-show style event for its 10th-graders’ CEL capstone projects at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan 17.-30-
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