Yearlong apprenticeships come with a unique set of challenges; the challenge of keeping students engaged for a full year, the challenge of creating an extensive curriculum to incorporate a years’ worth of learning, and the challenge of finding volunteer Citizen Teachers willing to make twice the usual time commitment for an apprenticeship (it’s usually just one semester!). This spring, the Entrepreneurship Apprenticeship at Renaissance Academy at Fischer in San Jose, CA, a first of its kind, certainly had its share of challenges - but the outcome was more than Stephanie Lin, the AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow overseeing the class could have imagined.
“At the beginning of the year, we had no way of knowing how this apprenticeship would turn out,” said Lin. “It was truly amazing to see how the students’ initial reluctance turned into passion, determination, and, ultimately, into an amazing pride of ownership.”
A partnership with WeThrive, a student-serving organization which assists youth from under-resourced communities to start their own ventures, the entrepreneurship apprenticeship challenged students to identify a problem in their community, develop a business plan, create a product to raise money towards remedying that problem - and, finally, to distribute that product.
In the early weeks of the apprenticeship, an abundance of energy, ideas and differing opinions made it hard for the students to find cohesion. But, as time went on, shared interests surfaced, and natural groups formed within the class. As these smaller teams solidified, business plans began to blossom, marketing strategies came to life, and the bond the students shared grew stronger and stronger.
Ultimately, the students settled on five separate projects: travel mugs to support homeless veterans; apparel to support shelter dogs at the local humane society; hand-made artwork to support The Dancing Cats Charity; sweatshirts to raise awareness and funds for people impacted by autism; and stress balls to support children fighting cancer.
Campus Director Seung Lee was struck by the sense of pride and ownership he saw growing in the students, week by week. As business plans turned to product designs and product designs became tangible goods, the students’ energy and excitement was felt throughout the school.
Thanks to a $500 seed money donation from WeThrive, the students were able to sell their products online. When the website went live, the students’ excitement soared - so much so that they scheduled a meeting with their school Principal to discuss setting-up marketing pitches to each classroom on campus.
“Students showed no hesitation to reach out to teachers for help,” Lee said. “Their drive to market their product had a profoundly positive effect on our campus.”
We are so proud of our students, and grateful for the support of Teaching Fellow Stephanie and our two Citizen Teachers from WeThrive Tyreke and Gloria. This example at Renaissance Academy at Fischer truly shows the impact apprenticeships can have - both at the school and the community level.