From Drop-outs to Stand-outs.

NFTE teacher Ron Summers shows students how to play the product innovation game.

Steve Mariotti is a Timex kind of guy. While running in Central Park in the 1980s, he was mugged and severely beaten by a bunch of young thugs. But instead of turning that trauma into rage, he took a licking and kept on ticking – quitting his successful career and going to work in some of the worst schools in the South Bronx to try to reach kids who were at risk of failing or quitting school. As a math teacher, he knew his students felt what he was teaching was irrelevant and boring. So Mariotti took his experience as a successful entrepreneur & started teaching kids how to start and run a business — making it real, challenging and fun.

NFTE students buying goods to resell at a profit!

Suddenly, the lights, energy and passion went on in the classroom – and the kids came alive with ideas, plans, hopes and dreams for businesses they’d like to start. He sent teams of kids out to the wholesale district of New York with $40, and challenged them to buy something they could resell to make (and keep) a profit. He taught them how to market, plan, and strategize. The kids’ street smarts developed into academic and business smarts – and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship was born.

Tia Jones sets up her business display for a student exhibit.

Since 1987, NFTE has touched nearly 350,000 kids from low-income communities and is now in 21 states and 10 countries around the world. NFTE trains teachers in the most challenged schools in the country to re-engage students by involving them in a curriculum designed to raise their expectations and their aspirations of what is possible – and give them the experience of making money with their own big ideas.

School-wide, regional and national NFTE business plan competitions are held each year, and the concepts are amazing: a cheerleading outfit design firm, cupcakes on a stick, football shields with UV protection, an airport quick-charging station, and veggie dog treats, among others.

Zoe Damacela presents her clothing line plan in the final national competition.

But what’s truly incredible are the kids behind these business ideas who have overcome unbelievable odds – from growing up in foster care, to having drug-addicted parents, starting life here as refugees, or losing siblings to drive-by shootings and gangs. Their lives changed when they were inspired by NFTE teachers or business mentors who made them believe that they could succeed, that with hard work they had what it takes to run a business, and that they were worthy of greatness.

Working on the philanthropy part of the business!

NFTE is such a positive program, it’s no surprise that business people volunteer to mentor the kids, business leaders like Arthur Blank (founder of Home Depot) volunteer to judge the competition, and more and more teachers are eager to embrace the training that allows them to re-focus and re-energize their students. Of course, there’s no silver bullet to prevent kids from dropping out of school, but expanding the arsenal of creative programs that can keep kids motivated and engaged is always smart.

2008 finalist Rodney Walker.

My $100 today goes to Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship because you never know where the next Bill Gates is going to come from. NFTE‘s motto is: “Start is up” — but I always think of the next lyric: “And I’ll never stop.” Reminds me of the Timex man who began it all by answering violence with compassion. And I’d gladly pay more to hear a child of poverty say, “I want to be a champion…” “I am the master of my fate…” “I can do anything.”

To join me in supporting this awesome organization, click here!

2 thoughts on “From Drop-outs to Stand-outs.

  1. I would like more specific information on game referenced in the article . . . “NFTE teacher Ron Summers shows students how to play the product innovation game.” Can someone provide a link to the explanation and directions? Thank you!

  2. With corporate jobs disappearing daily, entrepreneurship is the way to go. Those kids are being given the tools and the freedom to think creatively, and that’s the most important part of education. Great program and excellent post!

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