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Utah Charter School Nurtures Entrepreneurial Spirit

May 15, 2013
Originally published on May 15, 2013 7:27 am

A new charter school in Utah wants to equip students in kindergarten through ninth grade with a solid foundation in business.

Students' daily lessons are peppered with concepts like sales and marketing, finance and entrepreneurship, says first-grade teacher Tammy Hill. "And that plays into leadership and improved math skills. And finance plays into every part of their lives."

About 580 students attend Highmark Charter School in a suburb just north of Salt Lake City. They earn play money by turning in homework on time and performing chores. They're encouraged to make items and sell them to each other.

"So they're learning about supply and demand and how to make a budget and then those who have money left when the classroom store opens, they can come buy little erasers and stickers and lollipops and whatnot with the money they've saved from their budget," Hill says.

Around lunch time, a group of rowdy fifth-graders lines up outside the school store.

Most of them say they're looking forward to sixth grade when they'll be old enough to apply for a job here.

Eighth-grader Kymira Jackson hastily ties her apron and races to the counter to start her shift. "I'm not good at math so it gives me a little more time to work it out, but it's a lot of fun," she says.

Cheryl Wright is a professor in the department of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. She specializes in kindergarten through third grade education.

"Money is an external reinforcer," Wright says. "And when you think about what is really foundationally important to early learning in particular, it's intrinsic motivation."

She says financial literacy is a bold objective. But it is social networks and good relationship skills that are the key to lifelong happiness and success, not just making money.

"If a school like that had a focus on what kind of businesses might be in the best interest of helping a community, helping individual people, I think that could really go a long way, too, so that it isn't just making money for myself but yet how can I create a business that might in fact be important for other people," Wright says.

But Highmark is not just a pint-sized business school, says Principal Kent Fuller.

"People think that we are turning out kids in suits and ties and briefcases and accountants. We're not about that. We're about taking the curriculum and integrating a business focus into our curriculum," he says.

Fuller says the goal is to give kids a well-rounded education that is also clearly applicable in the real world.

And it's that real-world focus that led parent Mark Wood to send his two daughters to Highmark this year.

"I don't ever want my kids to have to sit in school and say, 'When am I ever going to use this?' Whether it's English or math or science, they can actually see where they're going to use it in real life and how it can really benefit them," Wood says.

Whether Highmark succeeds or fails will ultimately be a lesson in supply and demand. Parents will now have to decide if they're happy with the school's performance in its first year of operation and whether they'll send their children there next year.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You may have heard of mission-driven grade schools. They focus on art, science or math. Now a new charter school in Utah promises to equip students in kindergarten through ninth grade with a solid foundation in business.

From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Whittney Evans reports.

WHITTNEY EVANS, BYLINE: The children's story "The Ant and the Grasshopper" is about the virtues of planning and hard work.

TAMMY HILL: (Reading) One fine day in winter, some ants were busy drying their corn...

EVANS: Tammy Hill, a teacher at Highmark Charter School is reading "The Ant and the Grasshopper" to her first graders, as part of their daily business lesson. In the story a grasshopper spends the warm months singing and dancing, while the ants toil, storing food for the winter. In the end, the idling grasshopper goes hungry but learns a lesson.

HILL: What was the important thing the ants remembered to do? Talk to each other at your tables for a minute. See what ideas you come up with.

Hill says their daily lessons are peppered with concepts like sales and marketing, finance and entrepreneurship.

And that plays into leadership and improved math skills. And, you know, finance plays into every part of their lives.

EVANS: About 580 students in kindergarten through ninth grade attend Highmark Charter School in a suburb just north of Salt Lake City. They earn play money by turning in homework on time and performing chores. They're encouraged to make items and sell them to each other.

HILL: So they're learning about supply and demand and how to make a budget. And then those of them that have money left when the classroom store opens once a month, they can come buy little erasers, and stickers, and lollypops and what-not with the money they've saved from their budget.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN)

EVANS: Around lunch time a group of rowdy fifth graders line up outside the school store. Most of them say they're looking forward to sixth grade when they'll be old enough to apply for a job here.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'd like to buy the U of U and the BYU sticker things.

EVANS: Eight grader Kymira Jackson hastily ties her apron and races to the counter to start her shift.

KYIMRA JACKSON: I'm not good at math so it gives me a little more time to work it out, but it's a lot of fun.

EVANS: Cheryl Wright is a professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah. She specializes in K-through-three education.

CHERYL WRIGHT: Money is an external re-enforcer. And when you think about what is really foundational important to early learning, in particular, is intrinsic motivation.

EVANS: She says financial literacy is a bold objective. But it's social networks and good relationship skills that are the key to lifelong happiness and success, not just making money.

WRIGHT: If a school like that had a focus on what kind of businesses might be in the best interest of helping a community, helping individual people, I think that could really go a long way too. So that it isn't just making money for myself, but yet how can I create a business that might, in fact, be really important for other people.

EVANS: But Highmark is not just a pint-sized business school, says Principal Kent Fuller.

KENT FULLER: People think that we are turning out kids in suits and ties and briefcases and accountants. We're not about that. We're about taking the curriculum and integrating a business focus into our curriculum.

EVANS: Fuller says the goal is to give kids a well-rounded education that's also clearly applicable in the real world.

And it's that real world focus that led parent Mark Wood to send his two daughters to Highmark this year.

MARK WOOD: I don't ever want my kids to have to sit in school and say, now, when am I really going to use this? You know, whether it's English or math or science, they can actually see where they're going to use it in real life and how it can really benefit them.

EVANS: Whether or not the Highmark succeeds or fails will ultimately be a lesson in supply and demand. Parents will now have to decide if they're happy with the school's performance in its first year of operation, and whether or not they'll send their children there next year.

For NPR News, I'm Whittney Evans in Salt Lake City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.