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Pro Basketball Player Brings Entrepreneurship Program to Baltimore Schools

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Starting this fall, an entrepreneurship initiative is coming to Baltimore-area schools, thanks to professional basketball player Rudy Gay and his Flight 22 Foundation.

Through a partnership with digital education technology company EverFi, the foundation is bringing an entrepreneurship curriculum to 22 schools in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County.

The San Antonio Spurs forward announced the initiative during Flight 22 Foundation's High School Showcase in his hometown, Baltimore, Md. Gay was a star player at Archbishop Spalding, a high school located outside of the city.

The entrepreneurship program will introduce students to basic business skills and instruct them on how to create business plans and models, said Brian Cooley, EverFi's president of sports and entertainment group. Its goal is to empower underserved youth and help them become competitive in the job market, he said.

"We looked at communities in Baltimore, and there were no big businesses supporting schools," said Yozmin Gay, Flight 22 Foundation's executive director of operations. "There were middle school and high school students that needed programs that helped them be career-ready."

A Gallup-HOPE survey on youth entrepreneurship found that the percentage of U.S. students in grades 5-12 who said they plan to start their own businesses decreased from 45 percent in 2011 to 41 percent in 2016. Students from racial minority groups saw a dramatic drop in interest, from 54 percent to 42 percent during that time.

The survey also found that students' interest in entrepreneurship declined over their school careers. More than half of children in grades 5-8 said they wanted to start their own businesses, a rate that held steady from 2011 to 2016. But by high school, interest in entrepreneurship dropped to little more than a third of students in 2011, and 27 percent, in 2016.

So the foundation partnered with EverFi, which had an entrepreneurship program that would help students in 7th through 12th grades learn about developing a business. The Washington, D.C.-based ed-tech company will provide their online course that uses gamified learning stimulation. The program is fully funded by Flight 22 Foundation.

Started in 2010, Rudy Gay's foundation aims to provide disadvantaged youth with access to resources and opportunities that will help them successfully compete in the workforce. Yozmin Gay said Rudy relied on her experience, and their mom's expertise in education. Yozmin is a former urban educator and principal in Baltimore, while their mother was a director of a Head Start program in the same city.

The EverFi online course is called Venture, and it centers around the development of a virtual food truck business to help the students learn about creating a successful business, Cooley said. The software is equipped to measure its efficacy so teachers can understand the impact it's having on students in the classroom, he said.

EverFi has worked with the participating schools to embed the course into their curricula. The company will also provide training and resources for teachers and administrators, Cooley said.

In addition to the course, the foundation will also provide a monthly mentorship program to encourage the students to keep going with their business ideas, Gay said. Entrepreneurs will come to the schools to speak to the students about the benefits and difficulties of creating a business.

At the end of the program, the students will be able to present their business models and plans to a panel, which consists of celebrities, entrepreneurs, school administrators, and elected officials, she said. Students will also have the opportunity to win funding for their business model.

The 22 schools chosen are located in low- to middle-income areas and have 50 percent or more students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, Gay said.

"The focus is building equity. These are schools that wouldn't have funding for this otherwise," she said. "This is our investment to those schools and communities.

Image: San Antonio Spurs' Rudy Gay attempts to shoot against Orlando Magic's Jonathon Simmons, left, and Nikola Vucevic during an NBA basketball game in March. Darren Abate/AP-File.


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