If you walk into Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) around lunchtime this spring, you might be tempted by the smell of churros, smoothies, pretzels and mini cheesecakes. As the scent pulls you closer, you’ll realize it isn’t coming from the Eagle Cafe: It’s coming from tables set up around the lunchroom’s perimeter, where 11th and 12th grade students in the Entrepreneurship Capstone course are selling treats to simulate running a real business.
“I’ve always been interested in business in general, making up creative ideas and stuff like that, but I wasn’t extremely interested until I was in the lunchroom when I was a freshman seeing people doing entrepreneurship and selling stuff,” said 12th grader Devin Jordan, a football and track athlete who has since taken several courses in the school’s Business & Marketing Department. He’s preparing for the exciting finish to his Entrepreneurship Capstone course this spring, when he will choose to sell an item or service to students and staff. “I thought that was a really cool thing that the school offers, just to be able to make money and learn all those skills.”
Putting learning to work
The Entrepreneurship Capstone, which includes coursework in Marketing Strategies, Business Innovations and more, is just one of many career-focused courses that students can explore at EPHS. It’s the culmination of the Business Management Pathway, a group of business-focused courses that will fully launch at Eden Prairie High School in the 2023-24 school year. Other Pathways will center on career fields like Natural & Applied Sciences, Engineering & Technology, Civic & Social Service and Communication & Entertainment.
When it came time for Devin’s sister Vanessa to enter EPHS, business courses were a given: “When we figure out our class schedules and what I want to take for the next year, my mom tells me what Devin does, and then I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll do it,’” she laughed. It turned out to be a great fit — “I like a lot of the marketing and creating different social media posts, coming up with ideas for different products.” In under two years at the high school, Vanessa has not only become a varsity basketball player and track athlete, but she has also taken Marketing Strategies, Business Introduction and Business Innovation to prepare for the Entrepreneurship Capstone.
Career-focused courses go beyond the ‘hard skills.’ In Business Management, students participate in informational interviews and learn about the importance of networking. “With all the interviews I’ve done and talking to people that I haven’t met before, I think that has helped me learn how to talk to people I don’t know and build rapport,” said Vanessa. Hands-on experiences are also key: In his Entrepreneurship Capstone, Devin’s class took an ‘Economic Bus Tour’ around Eden Prairie to learn about the city’s new businesses and their impact on the community.
Soon, the siblings’ passion for business extended beyond the classroom. When a family friend approached the Jordan siblings last year about creating a cleaning company, they jumped at the chance. Now CRB Cleaning, LLC. cleans two Chanhassen office buildings and a fitness center every other day, and the siblings apply what they learn in their business classes when the school day is over. “For me, networking is a huge thing, because being able to talk with the real professionals at these businesses can help me in the future if I want to get a job there,” said Devin.
Finding the “why”
The hands-on experiences that helped the Jordans realize their interest in business aren’t just happening at the high school. Thanks to community support, Eagles can now explore their interests as early as kindergarten. At Eden Lake and Cedar Ridge elementary schools, students split into small groups once a week to discover more about areas of interest ranging from animals to podcasting. The program will expand to all Eden Prairie Schools elementaries next fall.
At the newly-renovated and expanded Central Middle School, exploration courses prepare students for high school Pathways by teaching foundational skills in entrepreneurship, design, business leadership, photo/video editing, theatrical techniques and more.
“It’s really unique to any other district that I’ve taught in,” says EPHS Business and Marketing Teacher Margot Cowing. “It really equips students, when they’re going out, to figure out what they’d like to do and where their strengths are. They have their why: ‘I know that I want to do this because I’ve already tried these things, and this is where I am strong.’”
Dr. Robb Virgin, who oversees course development as the district’s Executive Director of Personalized Learning, agrees. “We’re connecting students with rigorous learning experiences that are really meaningful to them. They can develop skills by engaging with actual people, businesses and resources in the career fields they are interested in,” says Virgin, who began his work on Pathways courses as Eden Prairie High School principal. “As we continue to develop our Pathways programming, the line between learning that happens inside and outside of schools will keep blurring, and that’s a good thing.”
As he looks toward graduation and a move to the Air Force Academy for college, Devin knows his Capstone experience will serve him well. “When I get deployed to the job that I’m going to be assigned after college, just having these skills — I mean, I took an Accounting class, and I took Business Innovations and Marketing. All these different skills just leave the door wide open for what I could do in the future.”