By Mike Marsee
At Bullitt East High School, two students are giving a presentation on business ethics in a space that looks more like a boardroom than a classroom.
At Eastern High School, students are selling everything from coffee to chicken sandwiches in an after-school enterprise that has been both profitable and educational.
Both endeavors are part of their schools’ participation in High School of Business (HSB), a program that prepares students for college-level business administration programs and gives them skills that will serve them well in college and in their careers.
The schools are offering courses – some of which offer dual credit – that give students the opportunity to study businesses both inside and outside the classroom. Both schools also have formed partnerships with local businesses and college faculty.
“It’s very project-based in nature, and it retains its rigor through the content that’s being taught, but it’s a lot of fun because they’re doing stuff,” said Jodi Adams, who leads the HSB program at Eastern that includes about 300 students and four teachers.
HSB is in its fifth year at Eastern in Jefferson County and its second year at Bullitt East in Bullitt County. Teachers at both schools are sold on what the program is doing for their students.
“It does a great job of marrying both college and career,” said Amanda Comstock, who established the HSB program at Bullitt East and teaches the six courses offered there to about 27 students. “The college aspect has the rigor, and the application of it all is going to get them ready for the career side. It’s the best of both worlds that I have found.”
Bullitt East and Eastern are the only schools in Kentucky that employ HSB, a program of the Marketing & Business Administration Research and Curriculum Center (MBA Research). The program, which began in five schools in 2007, is designed much like a college business administration program.
Schools that adopt HSB must offer at least six courses – principles of business, business economics, principles of marketing, principles of finance, principles of management and business strategies – and students take one course per semester. Business strategies is the capstone course, in which senior teams use the knowledge and skills gained in the previous courses to implement a new business idea.
Teachers are required to complete professional development courses offered by MBA Research. Eastern’s Adams serves as a professional development counselor. The training focuses on teaching methodology, business and marketing content and hands-on practice in teaching the curriculum.
The cost of the program and its trainings are not within every school’s reach. MBA Research estimates the cost for the first four years – including one year of planning before courses begin – at about $5,000 per year, though it falls to about $2,000 beginning in year five.
However, Betty Montgomery, the business education consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education, called it “a model program for the whole state.”
“The curriculum is derived from business and industry input,” Montgomery said. “The schools work closely with business and industry partners in their area to provide opportunities for students to interact with role models and people in that career field they’re interested in.”
Jessica Haggard, a junior at Eastern, said her interest in business attracted her to the school’s HSB program.
“I was really interested in learning a lot about business, and I think these are really important skills to learn. This is one of the only schools that has the program, and I’m grateful for that,” Haggard said.
HSB was established at Eastern when the school’s principal wanted to find a program that could attract college-bound students regardless of whether they had an interest in business.
“The first year we rolled it out, we thought we’d get one class of 25 kids. It’s a college-level curriculum; this is not a cake elective. We had 96 sign up for that first group,” Adams said. “We had 68 graduates from that group of 96, which is pretty good retention when you’re talking about sophomores to seniors in a career and technical education program.”
Two years ago, Comstock brought a group of Bullitt East freshmen to Eastern to see the program and talk to seniors who had gone through it. Her school had just added a new college and career center onto its building, and she wanted a program with a different look to go into classrooms that looked different from the rest of the school.
“That was part of my marketing to recruit students to the program when there was nothing really tangible to see,” she said. “The last two years we’ve taken a couple of buses full of students to Eastern, and Jodi has been great. They’ve been able to see the program in action, to see the business they have up and running, and we’ve used that as a recruiting tool.”
Eastern’s business is the coffee shop, which actually predates the HSB program at the school. Students sign up to work shifts in the store, which opens with the final bell each day. Customers can buy coffee or soft drinks, snacks and even sandwiches through a partnership with Chick-fil-A, and they can pay with a credit card.
The coffee shop grossed enough money last year to fully cover student activities in career/technical student organizations – such as Future Business Leaders of America – eliminating the need for traditional fundraising and allowing students to attend the conferences and competitions that often go hand-in-hand with the projects they have done in HSB classes.
Bullitt East’s HSB students haven’t gone into business yet, but they plan to. Comstock said her goal for next year is for the program’s first seniors to open a snack shop for about a week, take a step back to evaluate it, then reopen to see if the operation improves based on the lessons learned.
Students are called on to make presentations frequently in the program, often doing more of them in their HSB classes than in all their other classes combined.
“We estimated if a student finishes a program here, he will have presented in front of an authentic audience over 70 times, so there is no fear of public speaking when they leave this program,” Adams said. “English teachers talk about when they’re having students do presentations, they know who the HSB students are.”
Alisa Patel, a senior who has been in Eastern’s program for four years, said the best part of HSB has been “the experience I can take outside into the real world, being able to handle money, to handle working with teams, with other people.”
Montgomery said students who are in HSB and other programs in which they can gain practical experience better understand the work they’re asked to do in class.
“They really get it, the students get why they’re in the classroom and why they’re doing a project,” she said. “Instead of questioning why, the students’ perception of education and learning is flipped. If they’re not intertwined in work-based learning, in shadowing, in internships, they just don’t get the connection between the concepts that they’re learning in the classroom and how that’s going to bridge over to their career one day.”
Adams and Comstock, both of whom also teach college courses, said the HSB program and its courses align well with Kentucky Academic Standards, including mathematics and English/language arts standards.
“MBA Research did a fabulous job of taking the high school standards and the college standards as well and marrying them together,” Comstock said. “It goes deeper than what it has to cover. I’ve told my students that in their sophomore year they’re doing some of the same things college business students do in their capstone class.”
Adams said HSB can work well for schools in more than one way.
“For the teacher or the school that just needs a great CTE business program in kind of a turnkey situation, it’s beautiful,” she said. “For those of us who have taught for a while and have taught project-based learning, it’s great. Once you get your feet under you, you can step back and look at what works.”
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