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CEO Program aims to provide business knowledge to Greene County students

Some Greene County students will get the chance to learn more about the business world in their own
communities next year.

With the help of the Linton-Stockton Chamber of Commerce, Greene County Foundation and Greene County Economic Development Corporation, the CEO Program will be started during the 2017-18 school year.

The Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) Program is facilitated by the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, and comes at no cost to the schools involved.

Interim Executive Director Cheryl Mitchell met with Greene County school leaders and business people Thursday morning to explain the point of the program, as well as what it means for the students and community.

She started with a little background about the program, such as the program started in 2008-09 school year in Effingham, Ill. with a single class backed by an investment from the Midland State Bank. In 2010, the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship was established, named after its initial investor. Since the first school year, the group is up to 35 programs in Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota with programs as close as Daviess County.

Linton-Stockton Chamber of Commerce Director Cheryl Hamilton and Economic Development Director Brianne Jerrels noted they both attended a class in Daviess County and were impressed by the students in the program and what they were learning.

Mitchell said the goal of the program is to allow students to see the real business world. Some teachers in the past have expressed concern because there are business classes taught in schools, she said, but noted the program is an extension of those classroom programs and allows students to take their knowledge to the next level.

Mitchell said it is suggested the CEO class be held early in the morning, during a suggested 7:30-9 a.m. block in order to reduce conflict with after-school programs. The students will be required to dress in business attire and act in a professional manner at all times as they visit local businesses throughout the year and hear from guest speakers.

While some days will be spent in the makeshift classroom, Mitchell said the goal is to get students into local businesses and see the inner-workings. For this reason, she said the program should not be held in a classroom, but rather in a business or organization’s meeting room.

“This isn’t school, but it is connected to school,” Mitchell stressed.

She added by hosting the class in a business, with a suggested change of work space each nine weeks, it will give the students a chance to see how the business starts its day.

The CEO Program operates on five pillars, Mitchell explained: Being a learner, owner, doer, communicator and connector.

As a learner, the CEO Program encourages students to be excited and curious about what they see happening around them. She gave an example of a student who explained she knew she had grown as a person when she did not get upset about her time in a drive through taking too long. Mitchell recalled the student took notice upon the change in herself as she sat in the line and wondered how the restaurant decided to have two windows and how they made the decision to put them this length apart. She was curious about things happening around her.

As for being an owner, Mitchell said the program makes students own up to their actions and understanding how they present themselves makes an impact.

“If a student were on a cell phone, I wouldn’t take it away and send them to the principal, I would walk up to them and say, ‘If this were a business deal, it would be off,’” she explained.

The students will have to become “doers” because they will create their own businesses and work with real money.

“These are big, real decisions,” Mitchell explained.

Students will learn to be better communicators with the help of guest speakers who will guide students in the “art of conversation.” Mitchell said students need to not only learn how to start a conversation, but also learn how to exit properly.

Through meeting with businesses during the school year, students will need to become connectors, such as knowing who to reach out to when certain assistance is needed.

“These kids don’t realize they are a part of this network. As they have business visits and guests speakers, they will be able to build their network,” Mitchell explained.

In addition to learning how the business world works, students will develop and run their own business. The students will offer either a service or a product, for which they will need to find investors and present at a Trade Show at the end of the year.

On top of all the education the students will get from the program, Mitchell said it offers another opportunity.

“The students get to see what jobs are actually there (in the community),” Mitchell said.

She referenced a survey done in one of the CEO Programs in another area, where 24 students were surveyed at the beginning and end of the year. The students were asked whether they planned to stay near their hometowns or move away. The survey at the beginning of the year showed 21 students planned to move away while only three planned to stay close to home.

By the end of the year, Mitchell said the students were able to see what many local businesses have to offer, and the final survey showed a flip in the numbers: 21 students planned to stay close to home after completing their education.

“Hopefully, the students will come back here. Kids don’t see the opportunities here, but CEO exposes them to the community and opportunities,” Mitchell explained.

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