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Opportunity for Growth in Morgan-Scott CEO

When you graduate in a class of 50 students in a high school where your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents attended, the world may seem fairly small.

But when students in Winchester, IL gained the opportunity to participate in the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship CEO program, the world got a little bigger.

Winchester High School, located just 26 miles southwest of Jacksonville, IL, is part of the Morgan-Scott CEO Program that, in its third year, is helping students see their potential and the potential of their small rural community.

“There’s a lot going on here,” Jennifer Sellars, Business Teacher at Winchester High School, said.

After Winchester CEO students finish their two hours of CEO class, they return to school and head into Sellars marketing class. While some students walk around before school with their donut, coffee and earbuds, Sellars said CEO students come with a different, more professional attitude.

“This is a community where my parents went to school here, I went to school here, my husband went to school here, everybody is related, so I’m teaching kids of (parents) I went to school with,” she said. “When these kids walk in class, it’s not just a student; it’s a relative or a friend of mine’s child.”

“To see their maturity and their thinking change from when they started the CEO program to when they leave was absolutely amazing to me,” she continued. “When these kids are walking up to you, looking you in the eye and shaking your hand, you’re amazed because that’s not something regular high school classes teach you.”

Sellars said the traditional education system has taught students to believe they will get multiple chances to succeed or that they will get a ribbon, even when they don’t try or disregard the lesson. Instead CEO has given Winchester students the opportunity to learn about failure, problem solving, teamwork and success through participating and listening to real life experiences.

“I love hearing (CEO) is the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do,” she said. “That they had to work at it and it was stressful. They had to put a lot of time and effort into this because I think we’re starting to raise generations of kids who do nothing but look down at their phones; they aren’t paying attention. The CEO kids are different, and it’s so obvious that they are different.”

Sellars recalls an introverted student, who had a hard time communicating with his peers and teachers prior to CEO’s first year at Winchester High School. Through the program’s requirements to meet with local business owners, to work with a mentor and to work as a team to produce a class business, a fundraiser and an individual business, the student was able to come out of his shell and is now able to work as an intern at the Illinois Electric Cooperative while studying at Southern Illinois University.

She has also seen how the CEO program changes students who are outgoing and extroverted are refined into professional communicators who can articulate what they are thinking and doing.

“I don’t know that traditional education is teaching our kids that, but I know the CEO program is,” she said.

“I think people assume CEO students are your cream-of-the-crop, straight A student, and they’re not,” Sellars continued. “You don’t have to be a straight A student, but you have to want to put in effort and think outside-of-the-box. Sometimes talent isn’t enough if it doesn’t work hard.”

The CEO program is notorious for helping students communicate with their peers and community members, but Sellars also likes how the program teaches students accountability.

“We had a student this year who couldn’t show up or show up on time, who wasn’t dependable, and she was asked to leave the program,” she said. “When you don’t show up for work, are you going to show up the next day and have an opportunity for full credit? No, you’re not. When these CEO kids have to plan their own class fundraisers or create their own business, they’re either going to be successful or they’re not.”

“There’s (not a teacher) going okay, we are going to make this work,” she continued. “The students know they are going to make it work. And when it fails, they start over and try something else.”

“CEO students are learning stuff we just can’t teach them; they have to experience it,” Sellars said. “And sometimes it’s painful and sometimes it’s a failure and sometimes it’s a mistake. They learn that it’s okay. It’s not what happens when you fail, it’s what you do after you fail.”

Because the Morgan-Scott CEO program consists of three high schools, students visit neighboring towns and businesses throughout the year. Sellars said students are always drawn to two small town girls who invested in turning their passion for lip balm into a business.

“It’s eye opening,” she said. “I don’t think they realize what’s going on out there because we are a small community that gets wrapped up in what we do right here.”

The Winchester community has also been taken by the CEO program. Sellars said after Executive Director Craig Lindvahl talked to the community nearly four years ago, farmers, mom and pop shops, the Illinois Electric Cooperative and the town’s mayor were so motivated to start the CEO program.

“For the agriculture community to see that this program was great for our community and our kids was a great thing,” Sellars said. “We have had a tremendous buy in from all sorts of businesses, industry and individuals. We want to grow our community. And we want the students to know they can come back here and be successful. We want to teach them how to do that.”

“Not only do the kids want to do it and are the kids who did it the year before are promoting it, but our admin is promoting it, our teachers are promoting it; everyone sees what a difference this makes in the students,” she said.

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