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Program could open opportunities for Streator, Woodland students

A textbook has limits to what it can teach students.

The CEO entrepreneur program adopted by Streator and Woodland high schools, on the other hand, has infinite possibilities, and that's why organizers are excited to launch it in the fall semester of 2020. 

The program has no textbooks.

Students with an interest in entrepreneurship spend the majority of school days visiting businesses hearing from its leaders, or "mentors" during the 90-minute periods. Students make their own business plans, and even pitch them to area investors with the possibility of becoming a startup.

The idea of the program is to introduce students to business through hands-on learning in real-world settings, and possibly give them a boost with their own ideas.

"The ultimate goal is to have one or two of the students at least start their own business in town," said Streator High School Board President Earl Woeltje, who has wanted to start an entrepreneuer program in the district for many years.

In order for the program to be a success, the city's business community must buy in, and so far, superintendents Matt Seaton, at Streator, and Ryan McGuckin, at Woodland, have had no trouble selling the program.

Funding for the program is supplied by 35 to 50 investors. The district and its students don't pay.

"The community has been great," Seaton said. "It's been exceptionally positive."

In 1 1/2 months of recruiting businesses, the program has received both the necessary donations to get the program off the ground and the willingness to serve as mentors.

"It's supposed to take 18 months to get the whole thing off the ground, including hiring a facilitator," Woeltje said. "We've managed to get a lot done in 1 1/12 months, and we're ahead of the game."

The program can help businesses just as much as students, by opening its doors and showing students what they do, how they function and what jobs are available.

"They can showcase what they have to offer," McGuckin said. "Students may not realize all the possibilities that are right here in their own community."

The CEO program is partnered by the Midland Foundation. It has 51 programs in 202 schools across five different states fueled by a total of 1,922 investors.

Success stories include Jessica Winters in Christian County, who started her own horse show jacket business, and Abigail Gerig in Kokomo, who taps trees for syrup and raises bees, or Zach Mette in Effingham, who started his own distinctive lighting showroom.

By the end of the program, students will start and run a class and personal business, completing two business plans. They'll have visited 30 to 50 businesses, and hosted 30 to 40 guest speakers, culminating in hosting its own ideas fair.

If students find opportunities within their community, they may decide to set their roots in town and build the next generation of businesses.

"We're hopeful when it emerges it will keep students in Streator," Seaton said. "We have kids in our district already operating their own businesses."

Seaton said fundraising will continue with a goal of launching the program in fall 2020. A board of directors — including Seaton, McGuckin, Woeltje and likely Woodland's board president, along with six others — will be formed.

An instructor will need to be hired and trained, Seaton said. All of it is within reach, he added.

"A lot of the kids who are successful in this program are not valedictorians or salutatorians," Woeltje said. "Not everyone who emerges in the business world is top of their class. This is another program we can offer to reach out to more students."

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