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First class of Kokomo CEO finds many paths to success

Fourteen high school students gathered for class at 7:30 a.m. a recent Friday morning, but anyone passing by the Howard County Community Foundation could have mistaken them for a group of very young executives.

Rather than sitting in rows of desks and raising their hands to answer their teacher’s questions, students pulled up chairs around a board room table and referred to notes on a recent visit to Select Equipment Co. as they discussed their impressions of its business model.

The Kokomo CEO class is a break from the traditional high school learning environment, for which the students are thankful. They joked about the struggles of senioritis one early-December morning. Joking aside, one valuable lesson participants in the first-ever semester of the Kokomo CEO program have learned is that there are multiple pathways to success.

“What you hear is if you want to be successful, you get good grades, go to college, find something you want to do and do it. If you don’t get good grades, you work at McDonald’s. Those are the options,” said Zachary Baird, a Kokomo High School student involved in the CEO class. “But what we’re finding out is if you don’t necessarily find success right away, there’s still an option to turn that around if you’re willing to put in the hard work to make that happen.”

The CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) program is new to Howard County this school year, made possible through the support of more than 40 businesses and organizations and the Community Foundation of Howard County. The Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance and Inventrek also have been instrumental in starting a local chapter of the program that gives students the tools to start their own business.

Students from Kokomo High School, Northwestern High School, Tri-Central High School, Eastern High School and Lewis Cass High School meet for one-and-a-half hours every morning, gathering at the Howard County Community Foundation when they’re not touring area businesses. They show up in khakis, ties and sweaters – a sign of the professionalism expected in Kokomo CEO.

CEO students have already taken a behind-the-scenes look at more than 30 businesses this school year, so they’ve heard a variety of success stories.

“It is unlike any other class I’ve taken,” said Rachel Baker, a senior at Northwestern High School. “Normally, you sit with 25 students and the teacher tells you to turn to a page in the book. There’s not a lot of room for discussion. There’s a very set curriculum and lesson plan, and it seems like there’s always a right answer.”

The right answer isn’t so clear cut when it comes to running a successful business. On Friday, the students discussed their trip to Select Equipment, what they thought of the warehouse, the company’s website, customer base and product pricing. Morgan Young, the facilitator of the Kokomo CEO program, moderated the conversation but didn’t dominate it, and he didn’t have a list of questions he needed students to answer about the experience. Students ran the exchange.

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