Real-world skills learning was on display last Thursday as Asheville Middle School hosted its first ever Cougar Tank event (like the tv show Shark Tank). This innovative project-based learning program brought together local business leaders and student entrepreneurs in an effort to show students what it takes to be a business owner.
Part of the seventh grade social studies curriculum is personal finance and most twelve and thirteen year olds don’t understand that because money is so abstract. They don’t have access to it and are still asking for it from mom and dad. So when you try to teach them about money, they just don’t have a grasp. So I thought this project, like the tv show Shark Tank, would be a great way for them to learn not only how to start a business and what it takes to make a business, but to actually earn some money... They can then decide if they want to save it or if they want to spend it. We talked about compounding interest and what that looks like in 4-5 years if they start saving money. We talked about credit cards and what compounding interest looks like on that as well, so I think it just helps make it a bit more tangible. - Mrs. Portugal, 7th Grade Teacher | Asheville Middle School
Making The Pitch
There were four sessions held throughout the day where teams of students would pitch their ideas, products and services to a panel of volunteer business leaders who would then deliberate and decide which services to invest in. Students presented everything from greeting-card writing services to a fully water-proof wallet made of duct-tape. Creativity and ingenuity were on full display and it was fantastic to see both students and adults engage with each other throughout the course of the event.
United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County would like to thank 7th Grade Teacher, Mrs. Portugal for reaching out and inviting us to participate in this one-of-a-kind event. In addition, we thank Ms. Portugal for her hard work and tenacity in making Cougar Tank at Asheville Middle School a reality — it was obvious to all who were there that this was a labor of love! We would also like to thank United Way's Tocqueville and Peaks Society members for taking time out of their busy schedules to help create this amazing opportunity for Asheville Middle School students — your real-world experience made this event authentic and went a long way in demonstrating to students that running their own businesses is a future they can achieve — if they're willing to work hard for it!
I thought the students articulated their products and services so well, it was hard to choose just one that I wanted to invest in. My final selection was by two young gentleman who presented jewelry made with washers and ribbons. It was very creative and the entire program was just so wonderful. What a great way for these students to learn about business and planning and what it takes to do business in the real world. They had a very limited time to articulate their business plan but we did get to give them feedback on things like the cost of their product, who they planned on marketing to, and ways they could diversify their product to other markets so it was a fun day. I think it was wonderful for them to see real world in action and talk with strangers and pitch a project very much like you would in the real world and all the things that come with that like doing math and learning how your budget works. It’s true real world application of business practices.
- Janice Brumit
How United Way Got Involved
We have four co-workers who work inside four different middle schools in our community: Asheville, Enka, Erwin and Owen. Each school is starting to serve as a hub for resources for their entire district. As we build the infrastructure for these community schools, our Resource Coordinators work to support the teachers, students and families. That's what happened here. Our Asheville Middle School Resource Coordinator at the time was Shari Smith. Shari heard about the project from Mrs. Portugal and brought the opportunity back to our volunteer center director, Michelle Bennett. Together they worked with other staff members to find the best volunteers possible for this learning experience.