One Teacher's Idea Met With Community Support...
Late last year, our Resource Coordinator at Asheville Middle School was talking to 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Portugal, who was teaching a class about entrepreneurship. In the class, students were learning about market research, product development, manufacturing, marketing and financing. Pretty impressive stuff for a seventh grade class. What Mrs. Portugal needed was a group of volunteers who could judge the students' projects (shark tank style) and possibly invest $25-50 on the projects they felt had value. Our Resource Coordinator knew just how to help and introduced Mrs. Portugal to our volunteer department at United Way, Hands On Asheville-Buncombe. After learning the project needs, we reached out to our Leadership Giving Society members, comprised of local business leaders and entrepreneurs in the community.
In the winter of 2018, Debra Prince Slosman, the Owner and Creative Director of Porter and Prince, a luxury linen and sleepwear retail store in Biltmore Village, served as a volunteer investor in the inaugural Cougar Tank at Asheville Middle. She and 24 others from our Leadership Giving Societies arrived at the school and met in the teacher's lounge as students excitedly prepared their business pitches and sample creations. Both students and investors were divided into groups and the morning kicked off with round one of entrepreneurial ideas ranging from a t-shirt folding device to a cell phone speaker made out of plastic solo cups to bath bombs and vitamin juices. One product Debra had the chance to review could have easily fit in at her own shop: goats milk and honey soaps neatly wrapped in a bag with a paper tag reading “Bee You Skincare”.
“With every design client, and every presentation shift of merchandise within my store, I’m called upon to prepare many crucial steps, apply creativity to problem solving and to be able to express my ideas to large groups of people. What I loved about the "Cougar" Tank experience was that the students were immersed in this same sort of project-based learning, giving them skills that will remain relevant to their future careers while also practicing their ability to communicate," shares Debra. I was so very proud of each of the participants addressing all our unfamiliar faces, taking in our constructive feedback and making the most of an experience that beat the heck out of just ‘doing homework’. Mrs. Portugal was able to creatively engage her 7th grade students and the results their teamwork and critical thinking produced were really impressive.”
Community Schools in Action...
The students presented their prototypes and business ideas with enthusiasm--offering drawings, handmade jewelry, duct tape wallets and more to the potential sharks. Take a closer look at the day-to-day recap in this photo gallery from the Cougar Tank experience. This type of project-based learning is a perfect example of a community school strategy in action, which is an initiative our staff at United Way have been dedicated to the past four years.“Kids have a lot of energy and sometimes it is like herding cats," shared Mrs. Portugal. "It’s worth it to watch their demeanor change, like when they were practicing their pitches to the class versus when they were pitching their ideas to the investors, they became individuals and they were no longer my students, they were real people with their own businesses. It was just awe-inspiring to watch them.”
United Way and the more than 50 member organizations of the Asheville Buncombe Middle Grades Network are all dedicated building systems that support experiences like these in schools and communities throughout Buncombe County, and built upon the 'Four Pillars of Community Schools': Expanded Learning Time and Opportunities, Collaborative Leadership and Practice, Integrated Student Supports and Active Family and Community Engagement.
Want to get involved as a Volunteer or Student Mentor? Learn more about what those options look like through Hands On Asheville-Buncombe.