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Utah Charter School Brings Early Focus on Business Education

By guest blogger Morgan Miller

It's never too early to learn the fundamentals of business—at least that's the philosophy of a new charter school outside of Salt Lake City, where those lessons begin in elementary grades.

Highmark Charter School's goal is to provide its 550 K-8 students with practical business lessons, integrated within the core curriculum, in an effort to encourage critical-thinking skills. Students at the school, which is located in the city of South Weber and is independent of any school district, offers the usual lineup of language arts, math, science, and history classes, but lessons on business practices and entrepreneurship are woven throughout those courses. Students are introduced to four specific areas of business: sales and marketing; management and leadership; finance and economy; and entrepreneurship.

The school also exposes students to the business world through non-academic means. They are expected to wear "business casual" dress to school. They participate in school fairs focused on entrepreneurship. Last week, students took part in a Lemonade Day where they not only made and sold their own beverages but were expected to follow health department guidelines while offering customers presentations of their business plans, describing their business goals, startup costs, and expected sales and profits.

Kent Fuller, Highmark's principal, said the school is trying to cultivate an understanding of business that goes beyond the basics of sales, marketing, and finance.

"We aren't just about making money," Fuller said. The purpose of Highmark, he said, is for kids to learn subjects that they can apply in many contexts, and show them "how to change the world."

At the earliest grade levels, students are introduced to business ideas in ways that are meant to be easy for them to grasp. For instance, some second-graders have been reading the fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper," which sets the stage for a discussion of hard work and planning, and the application of basic business principles.

Ted Tucker, vice president for program affairs and administration at the Foundation for Teaching Economics said that he believes schools like Highmark are grounding students in important skills.

"We believe people who have an understanding of economic reasoning are better at making decisions and life choices, such as public policy choices," Tucker said. "They can better analyze situations."

The organization offers a program for schools that share some aspects of Highmark's educational model. It promotes efforts to weave economic literacy into academic subjects such as history. Tucker believes economic concepts can be introduced to students at all grade levels, as long as they're offered in ways that are age-appropriate.

Malhaz Jibladze, a Foundation for Teaching Economics mentor and online instructor, has been teaching economics for nine years. He believes the topic deserves a strong place in the curriculum.

"When you look at economics, it's prevalent in decisionmaking" throughout government and society, he said. "When you look at politics and political debates, most of the issues are based on economics."

But Jibladze also questioned how much value studies of business and economics have for young students.

"The earliest I taught economics was middle school," he said. "When you look at business and personal economic concepts, you have to have practical knowledge of it" to understand those issues.

Highmark officials will soon learn whether parents approve of the school's academic philosophy. Earlier this week, the school sent out a survey to families asking for feedback on Highmark's first year in operation. Although faculty and staff are still waiting for the results, Highmark has already reached its capacity next year with a projected enrollment of 690 students, who will include the school's first class on 9th graders.

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