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Chester Chamber hears CEO presentation

CHESTER -- “These kids are ignorant. They’re not stupid, they are contextually inexperienced.”

Those were the words expressed by Monroe-Randolph Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis while explaining the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program to the Chester Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 18.

Davis, Chester CUSD No. 139 Superintendent Chris Diddlebock and Cole Stenzel, assistant vice president of Buena Vista National Bank in Red Bud, were all members of the panel presentation. Randolph County’s CEO program will be offered to high school juniors and seniors starting next fall.

“The system we use to teach our kids is 350 years old,” said Craig Lindvahl, executive director of the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship and who helped create the CEO program, in a video shown during the presentation. “If Thomas Edison came back, the schools would be the only thing he would recognize.”

Funded by business investors, the CEO program selects students through a “vigorous” application process that includes letters of recommendation and utilizes area businesses as classrooms. The class meets for 90 minutes each day, provides for two high school credits and hosts 50 to 60 guest speakers each year.

Students are required to provide their own transportation to the class.

“Kids knowing how to learn, instinctively, is a good thing,” Lindvahl said. “Their world is going to change repeatedly.

“They have moved beyond the need to retain a lot of information.”

With a $25,000 startup fee, the CEO program also needs around 40 investors pledging $1,000 each for a three-year commitment. Stenzel said organizers have raised $64,000 thus far with 30 investors still needed.

The majority of the expenses go toward the payment of a teacher for the class.

“We are actively recruiting a teacher,” Stenzel said. “That is the most important part.”

Students in the class will have the opportunity to start their own business and gain experience through mentorship by members of the business community. The program also hosts an annual trade show to showcase student businesses.

“There are two requirements, that they are trustworthy and they work hard,” Davis said. “No one said 4.0 (GPA). There’s no GPA requirement for this.”

Davis said in the state’s first CEO class, created in Effingham in 2008, 21 of the 24 students said they would return home after their college graduation to start their careers.

“These kids don’t have to create Facebook,” he said. “But before they get started, they have to get inspired by the opportunities that are out there.”

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