“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” That’s what the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger said. A little twist on the same theme by American author, salesman, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” Whether you call it luck or success, the students at the Bertha Hewitt High School are getting a feeling for the preparation for opportunity in the entrepreneurship program they call NextGen.
The evolution of the program has happened quickly with Superintendent Eric Koep at the helm. Teachers Mike Barthel and Mike Bauck, Information Technology wizard Scott Wegner, Community Education Director and overseer for the Pure Goodness component, Jenn Wolfenbarger, and part time Pure Goodness soap stirrer Fran Bakken coordinate the day to day operations, but all are quick to say that the students do all the work. Or at least most of the work.
Two class periods each day are blocked off for the entrepreneurship classes which are attended by about 15 students. If they have free periods, they can also work at any of the various facets of the business. Katlyn Kyar, a college bound senior, has even more flexibility than other students since she is in a part time Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO). She and Zach Ellis share the duties of CEOs of NextGen for 2020. “Zach is in charge of the production, plasma cutter and shop downstairs. I handle the upstairs parts and work on expanding our wholesale sales, social media and new customers,” Katlyn said.
While NextGen is only in its second year of existence and its first year of being built into the curriculum, it has many components and an enthusiastic team of adults and students. In fact, it was a student who spurred on the entrepreneurship program. He was using the school’s plasma cutter to make signs and recognized the niche this might fill in a job skills program. The school’s woodshop classes had previously made picnic tables and benches to order. “The biggest thing, though, was that we didn’t have a business person. When we teamed up with the business teacher, Mike Bauck, that helped a lot,” said Barthel, the woodshop teacher.
“It really took off,” explained Katlyn, “when we had a two day workshop with Kevin Honeycutt.” Honeycutt is a keynote speaker and trainer who works with schools to develop innovative, engaging curriculum to better prepare learners for the world they will face when they graduate.
Inspired by Honeycutt’s workshop, and with the budding collaboration between business and creative enterprise in place, the next logical step was formalizing the entrepreneurship curriculum in the classroom.
It didn’t hurt, either, when bus company owners Mike and Jenny Aksamit attended a presentation about the planned entrepreneurship program. They felt that the experience of running a business was an opportunity that most high school students don’t get and purchased the Pure Goodness Bath & Body business to donate to the school. Jenny was also happy that she would still be able to get her favorite bath products formerly available from the Farmington, Minnesota business.
With the sign and soap businesses up and running, students experience hands-on learning in computer aided design; wood working; use of the plasma cutter and laser engraver; the chemistry and science of soap-making as well as that of creams, lotions and lip balms; accounting; inventory and quality control; website maintenance; marketing and customer service. Some students have also had opportunities to represent the program at conferences and workshops. They also need to be doing well in other classes to be a part of the entrepreneurship program.
Right now the Pure Goodness part of the business offers ten different products and a great variety of scents, flavors and blends. Those products are sold on the website as well as in the building used to formulate the products, the football concession stand. “We only have about five home football games a year so we just move the soap products to the side when the building is needed for concessions,” said Jenn Wolfenbarger, who oversees the Pure Goodness part of NextGen.
The plasma-cut metal signs are marketed through Scheel’s sports stores, bait shops, gas stations and boutiques. NextGen is licensed to make North Dakota State University bison logo signs and are happy to take on custom orders.
“I’m really proud of our design team,” said CEO Katlyn. “For one custom customer they made a design and paper proof in ten minutes!”
Scott Wegner, who makes sure all the computer technology is tuned and toned, is pretty proud of the enterprise, too. “We’ve taken in $17,000 in revenue since September 1,” he said. That money is reinvested in the program or in grants to graduates. Students earn credits for the entrepreneurship classes but cannot be paid during the school year. Some are hired on to keep things going during the summer months.
Superintendent Eric Koep is enthusiastic about the entrepreneurship program so far and has plans for more investment in the future. “I see great value for all students. It’s great exposure and we want to continue to develop into other areas. We’ll add more staff next year and develop other tracks. Students in the entrepreneurship classes will also be able to earn college credits through Central Lakes College.”
With a $20,000 grant from Sourcewell, the next project will be joining with Wadena and Sebeka schools in developing a health academy, encouraging and giving students experiences in the health fields. “We’ll be working with M State, Tri-County and Lakewood hospitals,” he said.
The entrepreneurship program is a unique education model for a small town school. Bertha’s population is 497 and the school’s average graduating class is 35.
“It’s becoming harder for students to afford four-year college degrees,” said Jenn Wolfenbarger. “We need people to come back to the area. We want to open up opportunities for people to continue to be able to make a living.”