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High School CEO program off to a busy start

Lisa Sheppard is putting all of her extensive background to good use as the first facilitator of the Sangamon Valley CEO program. From her college experience as a church youth director to being the mother of five, it’s all coming in handy as she helps students help themselves.

I very, very easily could do this in a classroom-type setting and do it for them, and it would be safer, and faster and less messy and I would get less blank stares,” said Sheppard, who is in charge of the eight seniors in the inaugural CEO Class of 2019-20.

But these students are going to be out on their own, so how do you teach them to take these skills and start thinking for themselves, and process it, and learn it?” she added.


Students from Monticello, Bement, Argenta-Oreana and Cerro Gordo high schools are in the fresh offering, one that uses curriculum from the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship in Effingham.

They are serious about the title of “facilitator,” who is encouraged to push students in the right direction and let them discover things on their own.

Midland puts it this way: You want them to play on the edge of the road and feel the whiff of the cars, but never let them get run over,” added Sheppard, who is a longtime interior designer who lives in Monticello. “The facilitator is there to keep them safe, but try not to reign them in unless they have to.”

Kind of like being a mom, which is how some students already see Sheppard two weeks into the school year.

Throughout the two weeks into CEO, Lisa has taught us so much and is almost like a second parent to us all. She has told us from the beginning to ‘begin with the end in mind’ and that really hit home with me,” said Bement participant Sadie Peeler.

It is really fun, but challenging. It gets my mind thinking about possibilities in the business world that I didn’t even know existed,” added Bement High School senior Alexis Smith.

Don’t get the wrong idea. There is plenty of organization. Week 1 included a planning meeting on Monday, head shots at a photography studio on Tuesday, a presentation on business communication on Wednesday, team building at Little Galilee’s high ropes course on Thursday, and a debriefing to end the week.

The class runs from 7:30 to 9 a.m., but participants are expected to arrive at 7:15 p.m. No jeans, no flip flops, no hoodies, and business casual attire is the minimum.

Students will first design and make their own name badge, then combine forces for a group business the first semester. They will take what they learned there to form business plans for individual businesses the second half of the school year, culminating in a trade show in April.

It’s a really outside-the-box class. One of the things one of the kids said on his first day back was about the badge business, and that it was wide open,” said Monticello High School Principal Adam Clapp.

The CEO program is using sponsorships to pay for itself, so there is no cost to the schools. Their home base changes each quarter, with the first nine weeks being in the Law Offices of Suzanne Wells in Monticello.


The facilitator

Sheppard, a Des Moines, Iowa native, earned her degree in interior design from Iowa State University, and earned education dollars and spending money during her time there as a youth director. She feels that experience, along with two decades in the business world, has prepared her for her role as facilitator.

It put several areas that I’m interested in together. As far as teaching youth and inspiring them, and then also that it’s more in the business arena,” she said. “It’s neat to put those two together and kind of inspire youth in management and business.”

I love that the program is very hands on,” added Sheppard. “All my course work was more in studio classes, and this is more of a studio-type setting, where we teach them the concepts, but they’re actually doing and creating.”

And even though the program has “CEO” in its title, she feels the skills learned cross all boundaries once youth enter the work world.

What I like about the program is it works for the student who is going into trade school. It works for the student who is going to college. It works for the student who is going to finish high school and start working. These are best business practices,” said Sheppard.

More information on the Sangamon Valley CEO program is available at

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