Entrepreneurs Corner: Proving the critics wrong

Brent Hales, left, and Pamela Smith talk with the Mississippi Business Journal recently.

Brent Hales, left, and Pamela Smith talk with the Mississippi Business Journal recently.

The Mississippi Council on Economic Education is out to make a change in way children are educated

Some critics of public education commonly point to the lack of what they refer to as “practical” education in secondary schools, by which they mean that schools do not do an effective job of preparing students for real-world economics and what it takes to earn a living. At least one organization is working aggressively to prove the critics wrong.

The mission of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education is to bring solid economic education to the forefront in Mississippi public schools, provide training for teachers, and encourage entrepreneurialism among students.  Recently, I met with two of the key players with MCEE, Dr. Brent Hales and Dr. Pam Smith, to learn about their programs and how they’re working.

A key focus of their work is to provide training to teachers at four centers throughout the state: Southern Mississippi, Millsaps, MSU and Ole Miss.  Teachers are provided economic, financial and entrepreneurial  coursework, and gain continuing education credits and a master teacher certificate upon satisfactory completion of the curriculum.  That’s just the beginning, though.

“Once we’ve trained the teachers, it’s time to work with the students,” Smith said.  “When the teachers are excited, they get the kids excited, and good things start to happen.”

What kinds of good things?

“There are a variety of programs for entrepreneurially-inclined students,” Hales explained.  “Some have to do with investing ‘imaginary’ cash and tracking its progress.  And then, there are the great success stories about student businesses that have started up and are being run as viable businesses.”

The old adage says that “nothing succeeds like success,” and hearing about the great ideas, enthusiasm and determination of high school students in Mississippi is all about success.  Hales provided a few examples of that success.  Remember, these are juniors and seniors in high school.

“One young woman started a business selling uniforms to schools that were converting to uniforms for their students,” said Hales.  “She demonstrated tremendous initiative, including approaching the Dickies company with a proposal to supply the merchandise.  Dickies liked what they saw, and went along with her plan.  As a result, she expanded through the state, and now has several full time adult employees serving in her business.”

Smith pointed to another student who purchased a snow cone business, and wound up expanding that.  One young man (with his pilot’s license) delivers fresh Gulf seafood to restaurants in Central and North Mississippi.  Another student started a successful translation business.

“We’re talking about successful businesses that actually create jobs for Mississippians,” said Smith.

Currently, the MCEE is working with 16 schools in Mississippi, and their goal is to expand to many more schools.  They feel that their progress has been strong in the five years since they were founded, and to date, they’ve trained 287 teachers in the key principles of economic education.

“Especially in today’s economy, with the rapid changes in business and technology, we feel that effective economic and entrepreneurial education is vital to Mississippi’s economic future,” said Hales.

The MCEE does not charge schools for the teacher training.  They operate primarily on a small budget with grants from a variety of sources.

“Money is tight these days, of course,” said Smith.  “We love to be able to expand our programs to 100 schools, but we’re certainly proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.”

One of the great rewards for Smith and Hales is the enthusiasm they see from teachers and students.

“Our focus isn’t always on the big things,” Smith said.  “Instead, we encourage students to just start out with what they have available.  Some have made $2,000, $4,000 or more from very small shoestring businesses in the course of a school year.”

“Each year, there is a business plan competition for students.  You’d be amazed at how well some of these plans are constructed,” Hales said.

As a result of hard work, dedication and commitment, the MCEE is recognized as one of the top 10 in the nation.  The education critics who decry the lack of “practical” education in secondary schools should perhaps take a look at what MCEE (and other such organizations around the United States) are accomplishing with teachers and students.

I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if some of the students who participate in these programs turn out to be future business leaders in the State of Mississippi.  In the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting and talking with some of these enthusiastic young entrepreneurs, and you’ll be seeing more about them in future columns.

You can learn more about the Mississippi Council on Economic Education at their website: www.mscee.org.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal Publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

Photo by Stephen McDill

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