- By: Matthew Rosenfeld Vice Pres./Gen. Manager of Ksee24/Cbs47, Chairman of the board, Fresno Chamber of Commerce
A strong community with a bright future. That is what you get when the business community and education professionals collaborate to inspire students. Leadership Fresno Class XXIX reminded us of this powerful formula for improving the chances that more students stay engaged in the classroom, find relevance in school, and follow a pathway into college and/or a career.
Leadership Fresno is the premier community leadership training program, created by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. It is dedicated to recruiting, equipping, engaging and uniting present and future leaders of all ages and experiences to make a difference in our community. I think you’ll find they are accomplishing their goal.
As their class project, Leadership Fresno Class XXIX chose to create a 10-week program called “Entrepreneurship Excitement.” The class wanted to inspire students through the benefits of entrepreneurship with the goal of developing life and business skills. It culminated with a business plan competition that tested what the students learned.
But why this project? Research indicated that “youth who are taught about entrepreneurship show a positive change in attitude and strong success orientation, and are more likely to be focused on academic and professional achievements and aspirations and leadership.” (Harvard Graduate School of Education) Other research showed “81% of dropouts said that they would have stayed in school if the subjects were more relevant to real life.” (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) Leadership Fresno Class XXIX presented their idea to Larry Powell, Fresno County Office of Education Superintendent and Jim Yovino, Deputy Superintendent, who welcomed the project. Momentum grew quickly.
Together they chose to focus on at-risk students at Kermit Koontz Education Center school has been expelled from their home schools. During the 10 week curriculum, Leadership Fresno Class 29 delivered a wide array of class lessons from marketing to finance to presentation skills and much more. Several speakers were recruited to give real-world relevance to the class lessons.
Kristin Stewart, the owner of Dusty Buns, spoke to the students about the rigors of starting a business. Tony Kalanijan, owner of Fresno Suit Outlet, shared his story of how he got started and the importance of dressing for success. At the end of the his presentation, Mr. Kalanjian announced that Fresno Suit Outlet and KSEE24 (NBC) Television teamed up to provide each participating student with a new suit, shirt, tie, belt and socks as part of the program. For virtually all the students, this was their first and only suit.
One student commented, “I feel like I can stand up straight. I feel like I can walk tall and talk to anybody. This black suit gives me confidence that no one is going to put me down and that I’m going to succeed.
All business plan competition presentations were made and the top three presented at Fresno City Hall in the Council Chambers on April 29th, with dignitaries like Mayor Ashley Swearengin present. The judges declared Vincent Pesqueria, age 15, the Grand Prize winner of $1000 and an iPad donated by the Fresno County Office of Education. The second and third place winners won $750 and $500 to be used for future educational pursuits or to start their own businesses.
FCOE Deputy Superintendent Yovino summed up the project, “Leadership Fresno Class XXIX said they wanted to get involved in our schools, particularly to help kids with the greatest need. Their plan was to give students hope that in the future they would be contributing citizens in this community. And they did that. They changed the lives of this group of students.” Well done, Leadership Fresno Class XXIX. Well done.