Edison High School business teacher Mike Iacarella works with 11th-graders Der Her (right) and Lisa Jara during the new Edison Entrepreneurship Academy class on Wednesday. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Learning skills beyond the classroom

Updated: December 12, 2016 - 3:55 pm

Edison Entrepreneurship Academy integrates real-world experiences into learning

Shirley Poelstra and Michael Iacarella walked around Iacarella’s classroom Wednesday morning, helping their 30-some students identify their strengths and how they relate to the school’s mission statement.

The longtime business teachers were helping the students develop a “personal pitch,” which several students then presented to the class. The activity wrapped up the morning in Edison High School’s new Entrepreneurship Academy, a three-period-long class that combines business, environmental science and English with soft-skill preparation.

Students will work on real-world projects during second semester, an effort the program’s teachers say will provide them valuable business experience.

“This is giving them the know-how so that they can do it, and I think that’s really critical for a lot of our kids,” English teacher Jessica Scott said.

Poelstra and Iacarella developed the Entrepreneurship Academy with help from the founder of a similar program at Minnetonka High School, called Vantage. That program integrates real-world business projects into multi-period courses such as business analytics and digital journalism.

Edison High School senior Trent Jacobs (left) talks with Mandy Jassen of Rêve Academy on Wednesday during the school's Entrepreneurship Academy class. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Edison High School senior Trent Jacobs (left) talks with Mandy Jassen of Rêve Academy on Wednesday during the school’s Entrepreneurship Academy class. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Vantage founders Brent Veninga and Chris Pears have helped develop similar programs in four other Twin Cities-area school districts, including Minneapolis. Edison is the only school in Minneapolis to offer the program.

Veninga said the business community has been receptive about the programs, noting partnerships with Target and other big companies.

“They need these future employees,” he said. “There’s definitely a need, and it’s exciting to see.”

Edison’s Entrepreneurship Academy students have benefited from Veninga’s connections, learning about pricing from a Target corporation guest speaker and visiting companies such as Caribou and Graco. They also spent three days at Rotary Club’s Camp Enterprise, a program that teaches business, leadership and entrepreneurship.

Junior Alan Vang said he’s learned how to cooperate with teammates, be a leader and communicate as part of the Entrepreneurship Academy, adding that it’s helping him prepare for college.

Classmate Manny Hill said he’s learned how to dress for a business environment and skills such as how to write a business proposal.

“This class is actually teaching you outside experiences that you really need,” he said.

Partnership with Spark-Y

Poelstra and Iacarella opened the class to juniors and seniors, getting 32 kids to sign up. Students receive one credit in science, one in English and one in business. They also earn credit in entrepreneurship from Minneapolis Community & Technical College.

Poelstra and Iacarella teach the class with Scott and science teacher Erin Ridley, along with two facilitators from the sustainability and entrepreneurship nonprofit Spark-Y.

Students are working with Spark-Y this first semester on projects such as building infrastructure inside the school’s greenhouse and creating a garden-to-cafeteria concept. Facilitator Rachel Mazac said the plan is to implement the proposals at the start of the new year.

The students will work on projects within the community next semester, partnering with organizations such as the YMCA, Allina Health and potentially Northeast-based Art Force Academy, Iacarella said.

Poelstra works with the students on soft skills such as constructive criticism and teamwork. They’ve also had business professionals work with them on resumes.

The program has come at no added cost to the school, Iacarella said. Edison offers several other business classes, in addition to the Entrepreneurship Academy. It also has its well-established Voyager program, which combines career and worksite seminars with mentoring and job experience.