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For three consecutive weeks this the summer, fourth- through eleventh-graders gathered at Regis University for the Porter Billups Leadership Academy. These students have a chance to do something many of their peers deem impossible: graduate from high school and attend college. And for the first time since this program was established in 1996, YouthBiz was an important part of their learning.
The mission of the Porter Billups Leadership Academy is to help at-risk and low income youth who have academic and leadership potential to successfully graduate from high school and attend college. Since its founding in 1996 by basketball coach Lonnie Porter, 100% of Academy students have graduated from high school. Students who are accepted into the program pay nothing out of pocket. If they complete seven years of the academy, they receive a scholarship to Regis University that covers tuition and fees. This summer, nearly 200 students participated in academic and enrichment programs, including YouthBiz.
Middle school students completed the YouthBiz StartUp curriculum, learning how to learn, think, speak, and act like an entrepreneur. Bryan Bayham, a teacher at Arrupe Jesuit High School who facilitated the sessions for the 89 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, was impressed with the passion he saw throughout the session. “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in all of us, and it’s been a lot of fun teaching them,” said Bryan between classes.
The culminating activity was a pitch competition where students pitched business ideas to panel of business professionals, including Daniel Ryley, City of Arvada; Kevin McCarthy, financial planner; Jake Wilson, Conscious Energy Consultants; and Debbie Trujillo, KeyBank. Products included Slurp, a healthy smoothie, Shoe-Af-Fluff, a floor cleaning flip flop, and Hyperstand, a holder for video game controllers. In addition to their creative business ideas, judges were impressed with students’ confidence, knowledge, and desire to give back to their communities. Many of the businesses had a philanthropic component. Debbie Trujillo, who sits on the Porter Billups Leadership Academy Board, noted that so many of the students had put their “hearts and souls” into their businesses. “I overheard quite a few students saying things like, ‘even if we don’t win, we’ll still keep doing our business,’ ” said Debbie. “What a wonderful opportunity for these young people.”
High school students participated in YouthBiz Out of the Box and ran a Marketplace as their culminating activity. Throughout the session, groups created businesses such as “Drippiest Clips” selling trendy hair clips or TD Tie Dye which created tie dye t-shirts and more. Many of the businesses capitalized on an inexpensive start-up cost, under $5.00, to ensure they would make a profit–of the 46 participants, all were able to pay back their initial business loan and many completely sold out of their products.
Elise, co-owner of Drippiest clips, was thrilled to participate in Out of the Box. “I want to have a business some day,” she said as their sales were wrapping up. “I learned about teamwork and about I can actually make that business happen.”
Whether students go on to create a business outside of this program or not, the experience they gained during their three weeks at Porter Billups Leadership Academy will help them be successful.