Business students accrue benefits

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — The Twin Counties has a business incubator at the Crossroads Institute, but young entrepreneurs can build their business portfolio even before they leave Carroll County High School.

All students can benefit from business classes that are part of the career and technical education offerings, no matter what their academic track, educators say.

Students can learn about possible careers and how to land those jobs, financial literacy, the importance of savings, possibilities of investing, and take in ideas about workplace benefits.

And if students’ ultimate goal is to become the next business mogul, they can get started working toward a master’s degree in business even before they graduate.

The entrepreneurial class earns students dual credits with Wytheville Community College. Those enrolled get a look at all aspects of starting a business: writing business plans, looking for funding, marketing, using technology, and growing the company, said teacher Stacey Alderman.

Teachers employ a range of strategies to give students a glimpse of the marketplace.

A recent school day found Courtney Crowder, business student and president of the Future Business Leaders of America, staffing the Cavalier school store in a small space off of the busy cafeteria at lunchtime, where Sarah Broyles tried on a couple of Carroll high t-shirts and sweatshirts.

The store gives students a convenient outlet for office supplies and lets youth in business classes get some management experience.

Students decide about items to stock the store with, such as apparel and hats — things they think will sell, Alderman said.

“It’s hard to get a lot of hands-on experience. That’s the closest thing to a business that we can use in class.”

Educators got other tools from financial industries.

One such program is called “Invest” and uses software that helps an insurance agent come up with customers’ ratings for insurance products.

It makes students think about possibilities of a career in insurance — something they probably wouldn’t have considered otherwise, Alderman said.

Students also get to play “the stock market game,” a real-time competition in which a team of four wins for having the best portfolio at the end of the semester.

Students are given a hypothetical $100,000 to buy stocks. They buy and sell stocks online, and trade shares at whatever the market dictates at that moment.

“It’s accurate,” Alderman said. “They have a 2 percent fee every time they trade...

“They compete with classes all over the region and the state. And that kind of motivates them.”

Have Carroll students cornered the market? In 2008, they did just that by winning first, second and third places for the regional high school division.

Their portfolios don’t necessarily have to make money to win. In a tough year, students could fall into the negative category and still outperform other players, depending on their investment mix.

Trading follows a week of training on market concepts and how and where to get information about stocks. Alderman does not encourage students to buy Google, one of the most valuable and expensive stocks available, but instead talks about the importance of diversification.

Buying stocks in energy, medical, and consumer goods spreads out the risks. Products that consumers need on a weekly basis are good bets.

Every lesson has a math component attached to it — students have to figure dividends and gains and losses.

When these students enter the working world, Alderman hopes they will feel more comfortable making decisions. For example, what mix of stocks they should have in their 401(k) package

Furthermore, she hopes the students will “be more likely to save and invest.”

Business students also  write business plans.

Ideas for coffee shops are quite popular among students, but the teachers encourage them to think about business saturation and likelihood of success.

Other kinds of restaurants, fast food franchises and video game stores come up a lot.

Business teachers point out community resources that entrepreneurs can take advantage of to make their company a success.

Alderman referred to the Small Business Development Center at Crossroads Institute, as an example. “Hopefully, when they leave here, they’ll know there’s help out there.”

Alderman and fellow teachers Darlene Horton and Heather Taylor give students opportunities to take marketing, business law and accounting.

Besides that, the classes will discuss writing resumes for the job market. “That’s something anyone can use,” Alderman said.

Crowder, a senior, decided to pursue a major and career in business. She said she’s learned a lot from her father, local Greg Crowder, owner of a NASCAR memorabilia distribution company and  Race-In.

The classes and FBLA help her develop leadership skills and prepare for college.

“I’m majoring in business when I go to college, so it is helping with my skills there,” Crowder said.

Alderman sees a lot of support from school administrators that makes the career and technical education program successful.

For good reason. “They hope some of these students will come back, start a business and create us some jobs.”

High school assistant principal Roland Hall said the administration sees many benefits arising out of business courses, as well as the career and technical education efforts.

“Students taking business courses benefit by gaining 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills,” he said. “Students also gain skills needed to be successful after high school whether they continue their education at a four-year college, a two-year college or enter directly into the workplace.

“They also prepare students to be active and productive members of society by giving them the basic skills needed to make sound decisions pertaining to saving and investing, checking, credit, insurance, buying a car, paying for college and renting or buying a home.”

Participation in FBLA, the student organization, also accrues benefits for students, he said.

“Students participating in FBLA gain self-confidence, communication skills and problem solving skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

“We have seen students who have seemed shy and not very active in school activities join FBLA and flourish. Many students take one business course their 10th grade year and end up taking every one that we offer.”