A Publication of WTVP

Real-world experiences are a powerful way to teach children entrepreneurial skills.

Ben VandenBerg, a teacher at Morton Junior High School, launched Project Discovery last fall, challenging 100 of his students to identify a passion and a way they could use that passion and their access to technology to benefit the greater community. The project reminded me of social entrepreneurship, a growing field in which individuals use entrepreneurial skills to solve social problems for the greater good. I was immediately intrigued with the project and soon found a role to play in support of Ben and one of his students.

In Project Discovery, students identified and pursued a variety of projects. They raised more than $5,000 on student-driven fundraisers for organizations ranging from large charities like St. Jude, Illinois Cancer Care and PAWS to smaller causes, such as an independent zoo in Peoria, the MJHS drumline and a student’s college fund.

One student decided he was passionate about bringing more retail development to Morton. Ryan Driscoll believed it would be a great benefit to the community, improving the quality of life for local residents, providing new job opportunities, and increasing our tax base. Ryan approached us at the Morton EDC for help in reaching out to Fry’s Electronics, one of Ryan’s favorite retailers, to see if they would consider a Morton location.

Once we began our discussions, Ryan learned that retail recruitment is a pretty challenging process. We reviewed the data a company needs to consider a location and how they make decisions on where to locate. Although we all knew Fry’s was a long shot, Ryan was up for the challenge, and so was our team.

Ultimately, Ryan was successful at speaking with the leadership at Fry’s, and although they are not currently considering new locations in Illinois, Morton is definitely now on their radar. Who knows what might happen in the future?

The students took away some powerful lessons from Project Discovery. They learned how to overcome adversity, manage large-scale assignments, document their findings, communicate to an authentic audience, ask questions, and find the struggle and value of academics within their interests. I think Ryan learned that improving one’s community takes research, tenacity and time. Perhaps he also found a possible career to explore in his future.

Ben VandenBerg learned a few lessons through Project Discovery, too. In some respects, he said, it was more difficult for parents to adapt to a new way of learning and embrace the impact this project would have on their children than it was for his students. He was also amazed at his ability to manage 100 projects simultaneously, quite a feat for any teacher!

I wanted to recognize Ben VandenBerg and Project Discovery as an example of the many unique ways we begin to teach our children entrepreneurial skills. Offering students a “real-world” experience, allowing them to use their own passions and skills to help solve a problem, support a cause or benefit the community in a concrete way is very powerful. These students will remember this experience and carry it with them in the future. And perhaps, in that future, Ryan will be managing a new Fry’s Electronics in Morton. You just never know! iBi