UK Program Teaching Students in Challenged Counties Entrepreneurism

Lexington, KY – In the teaching world, classes about business and entrepreneurship don’t often begin at the elementary or even middle school levels. But a program administered by the University of Kentucky and funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is working to change that in some of the state’s most economically challenged rural areas.

E-Discovery Challenge is a curriculum-based program that incorporates a hands-on approach, applying what is learned en route to creating successful business teams within participating schools, according to Melony Denham, the E-Discovery Challenge Project Manager.

That curriculum was developed after Denham and Annette Walters graduated from UK’s Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute (KECI) and saw a need for youth curriculum.  KECI was the brainchild of Dr. Ron Hustedde, a sociology professor at UK in Community and Leadership Development Department.

“We train elementary and middle school teachers to use E-Discovery Challenge curriculum in the classroom.  Once they take the training, the teachers roll it out in a way that best fits their school schedules,” she said.

Those schedules can vary from school to school, but the teachers complete the course, which is comprised of nine sessions, at a time of their choosing during the school year. The idea is to come up with a “business model” while executing the program. This will culminate with a planned sales event where the students will have an opportunity to make money from their new venture.

Generally teams of three to five students are organized. Each receives $15 as seed money, managed by their teachers.  Denham emphasized that classrooms could work together as one large team for larger projects, but as a rule the small teams usually make more money.

“The students get into their teams and brainstorm along with doing creativity exercises to help them come up with what will work best for their team, be it a product or service,” she added. “The teachers can conduct the nine sessions in different ways but at the end of the sessions the students will have developed their businesses and be ready to sell.”
The students will even do market research to prove their product or service is something their “buyers” will want. From there they are able to tweak their business model based on feedback received from those potential customers.

Denham said in doing this type of research some teams have realized their idea needs to be changed and back to the drawing board they go. She also pointed out that teams that don’t do their market research have a high failure rate.

“That’s okay. It’s part of the learning. But they have to really focus so they can up with new ideas and go through the steps to make sure it is going to be something that works,” she said.

After a sales event has been completed, the seed money is returned to the school so that it can be used for the next class, making for a sustainable project. Any profit can be split among team members.

“Once the students grasp that on the front end, it’s very motivating,” Denham said. “And we have had some teams that had a major amount of money to split between team members.”

The project is now in the fourth year of utilizing the ARC grant but Denham and Walters taught the program in a private school setting for two years prior to that grant funding through UK.

Heather Wells,  a social studies teacher at East Carter Middle School in Carter County has been involved with the E-Discovery Challenge over the last four years and has seen some very innovative projects and services created by her students.

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