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High School learn entrepreneurship in CEO

I really admire the work being done by the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. One of their main foci is to encourage and support youth who venture into their own businesses so they can remain in the rural places where they grew up. This is particularly important to maintaining the strength of a community’s business infrastructure to preserve a high quality of life for its residents.

The Center is incredibly generous with its resources and this month it shares a series of webinars on Energized Youth, Energized Communities, Proven Strategies to Address Youth Outmigration and Recruiting Alums and Young Families.

In April’s enewsletter they share an incredibly innovative high school program that supports entrepreneurship and makes school relevant to business skill development, particularly for those students who dream of “making a job” rather than “taking a job.” The genius of the program is the involvement of over 50 community businesses that want to ensure the program’s continuation and success. The article is reprinted here in its entirety:

CEO: Changing the Lives of Youth and the Future of Rural Communities

By Craig Schroeder, Rupri Senior Fellow for Youth Engagement –

I’m excited to share with you an outstanding youth entrepreneurship program based in Effingham County, located in south-central Illinois incorporating five towns and a total population of 34,242 residents.

Craig Lindvahl is a high school teacher in Effingham, with an impressive resume spanning over 30 years. He was recruited several years ago, with the encouragement of our mutual friend, Jack Schultz, to develop a program for junior and senior grade students that would immerse them in opportunities to interact with local entrepreneurs and learn business concepts through entrepreneurship projects, applying what they learned in real-world settings. The program that emerged is called CEO, which stands for, “Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities”.

CEO is an extraordinary educational endeavor. The program is funded primarily by a large group of business investors, who also participate actively in the activities of the class.

CEO highlights include:

Students come from all six Effingham County high schools

Students are selected through a rigorous application process

Students come from a wide variety of academic and socio-economic backgrounds

CEO class meets in area businesses, not in schools

Students receive two high school credits for participation in the class

Each CEO student starts and runs their own business

Each CEO student completes three business plans during the year

CEO class will visit 30-40 area businesses each year

CEO class will host 50-60 guest speakers each year

Each CEO student will be matched with a business mentor

CEO Hosts an annual trade show to showcase student businesses

CEO graduates have access to a $100,000 angel investment fund

The impact of CEO is perhaps best illustrated by a quote from a CEO student,

“Our CEO class isn’t a normal everyday class, it’s a new way of education. More schools around the nation need to look at starting a class like ours. It’s new, creative, and yields many once in a lifetime opportunities. CEO students do not fear failure. We see opportunities to learn. We are outside of the box thinkers, and we are the future of our communities.”

– Brad Reedy

CEO Student

CEO is its own entity working in partnership with local schools and the business community. Over 50 area businesses support the program financially and host students in their businesses and present as expert speakers. One major supporter, Midland States Bank, a regional bank based in Effingham, describes CEO as, “an investment in the future”.

Craig has graciously agreed to share with you his insights on the value of experience-based education and the impact entrepreneurial youth can have on the future of rural communities:

“For too many of our students, the default perception is that opportunity is something that exists elsewhere. As we farm the fields of economic development, some of the richest harvest may come from our own kids. By investing in something like the CEO program, communities harness the expertise and enthusiasm of the people who have made the community successful, expose students to wonderful businesses and people they wouldn’t otherwise know, and foster a sense of “I want to be here, I want to help make this place better”

Like any endeavor, it’s much more about people and relationships than it is about the mastery of any particular subject content. When students connect with area business people and community leaders, there is a personal bond that forms. For people outside the educational system, education becomes personal. It’s no longer “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with education…” It’s “Wow, the kids are all so different. I just love being around them.” For educators, it’s no longer “You don’t understand what we do!” It’s a new partnership, full of resources, ideas, and energy.

We can wish things were like they used to be, we can pretend things were somehow better in “the old days”, but it won’t change where we are. The truth is that times are challenging. That is an essential truth for nearly every community at any particular time. Things are always challenging.

Another truth is that it’s never mattered more to do the right things. Some satisfy immediate, urgent needs. Others, like CEO, are planting seeds that will bear fruit forever.

One thing is for certain-if we’re willing to change the way we think about educating our young people, if we exhibit a commitment to connect with them and give them compelling reasons to return to our communities to innovate and grow-we’ll see things far beyond anything we could dream. Kids are like that. People are like that.

CEO is, without question, the most remarkable thing I’ve seen in more than thirty years as an educator. It is truly a transformational experience for everyone involved. It’s not the answer for every kid in every school in every town, but for the kids who come into the program it is life changing.”

More information on CEO is available at: To discuss how a program such as CEO can engage youth in your community, please contact Craig Schroeder.

Biography of CEO leader: Craig Lindvahl is a nationally recognized educator and filmmaker. In more than thirty years of teaching, he has taught every grade k-12, and his work as a filmmaker and musician has taken him to nearly 20 countries and allowed him to work with young people from more than 25 countries. His television work is regularly seen on PBS stations around the country. He is the recipient of twelve Mid America Emmy Awards and eleven Telly Awards, as well as the Studs Terkel Award for contributions to the humanities. He is a recipient of the prestigious Milken National Educator Award and has twice been recognized as a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the year. As a result of his work with the innovative CEO class in Effingham, Illinois, he was recently named the Illinois “teacher-preneur” of the year.

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