Program helps students get real-world work experience

Before they graduate, some high school students are getting experience making their own products, setting prices, tracking inventory and balancing the books.

The goal is to show the students at The Crossing Educational Center how to run a business. Instead of merely teaching students the basics of accounting or marketing from a textbook, the alternative educational center in Whiteland is having the students run their own store, where they make and sell wood-based products.

What started as a team of eight students making items in the spring will be a business that has grown three times that size starting this fall. The Crossing received a grant for nearly $26,000 from the Johnson County Community Foundation to fund the store, regional job training coordinator Erick Russell said.

The grant will cover about half of the materials and costs, such as purchasing new machines or paying for advertisements, but sales must cover the other half, including the teacher’s salary and benefits, Russell said. Starting this fall, The Crossing wants 25 students to participate in the microbusiness project, Russell said.

“A microbusiness is a completely student-facilitated, student-led business,” Russell said. “Students are responsible for operating, managing, leading a business. An instructor is facilitating this, but students are the stakeholders.”

The microbusiness allows students to apply their school courses in a real-world scenario, and the business will not survive if the students don’t keep it afloat, Russell said. When students aren’t in their academic courses, they are either making products, checking their inventory of raw materials or updating the business’s accounting spreadsheets, Russell said.

The Crossing Educational Center opened one year ago, and students from Greenwood and Clark-Pleasant school districts can attend the school as an alternative to their home high schools. The Crossing usually contacts students who decided to drop out of high school and offers to let them finish their diploma or earn their equivalency diploma.

Rather than having students stay in classrooms throughout the day, teenagers can operate and manage a business, intern at a local company or work for a hospital or business in the area for credit.

For their microbusiness, students are making benches, shelves and wine racks. If a certain product, such as a wine rack, sells faster than other items, students need to determine if the price should be raised or if they have enough materials to make more wine racks in the future, Russell said.

If a product does not sell well, students need to find out why. A product may not be advertised well enough, the price is too high or the demand might not be there, Russell said.

Students may have called multiple customers about a picnic table, but maybe none has enough space in the backyard, for example, Russell said. Students learn what sales tactics are useful for their future careers, he said.

The students’ store sells items through open houses or sale days announced on social media, Russell said. Now that they’re expanding, the students may contact local shop owners to have their products sold in stores, he said.