Grantee Spotlight:  Emmanuel Christian Academy

Located in Akron, Emmanuel Christian Academy serves students historically defined as at-risk and underserved in traditional systems of education. Burton D. Morgan Foundation has provided grant funding to support Emmanuel Christian Academy’s evolving entrepreneurship programming for more than a decade.  We recently met with Carla Jackson, Head of Middle School and Director of Entrepreneurship, to learn more about Emmanuel Christian Academy and the role it plays to build the entrepreneurial mindset and related skillsets in Akron youth.  

Foundation:  Emmanuel Christian Academy has been a forerunner in youth entrepreneurship programming in Northeast Ohio, leading the way in integrating entrepreneurship throughout your curriculum and prioritizing it for all students.  Can you talk about why it’s so important that all your students get these opportunities?

Carla:  It is important that all of our students receive the opportunities that are afforded to them through learning and understanding financial literacy and entrepreneurship because the information that they learn in these courses can serve as a life skillset that all learners can benefit from regardless of their individual passions. Additionally, we understand that such programming addresses both economic and social inequity while promoting and advancing economic and social inclusion. Our program allows us to examine and identify how entrepreneurial education and the cultivation of an entrepreneurial mindset in youth yearly from grades 4 through 8 not only helps to grow their mindset but begins to impact the participant’s overall behavior, creativity, accountability, confidence, and motivation.

Within our program, participants examine the disparities among individuals' incomes and wealth so as to identify ways in which they can personally work to close such disparities for themselves by applying financial literacy skills they have been taught or with the creation of a business.  These skills equip them to bridge the social and economic gap found between those from households with incomes at or below the poverty line with others from middle to upper-class households, all of which we believe to be pivotal in breaking the cycle of poverty and elevating communities. This is my assertion as to why exposing all learners to financial literacy and entrepreneurship is vital.

Foundation: Over the years, you have experimented with a lot of different approaches to entrepreneurship. From summer camps to school-based businesses to targeted support for individual businesses, you have tried many different structures to help build the entrepreneurial skill sets in your youth. Which structure(s) have you found to be the most beneficial for your students?

Carla:  There is not one structure that I would posit to be more beneficial than another. Each structure serves as a building block for another. For instance, the classroom instruction serves as the foundation and understanding of vital concepts and aids in giving birth to student creativity, curiosity, business development, and financial literacy implementation. This then allows for them to apply what they have learned with a real-world connection by developing and launching their own businesses and understanding the value of saving and investing.

Foundation:  You have also used a lot of resources available in the Northeast Ohio youth entrepreneurship ecosystem, including Lemonade Day, Young Entrepreneur Market, NFTE, Celebrate Youth Entrepreneurship, Young Entrepreneur Pitch Challenge, and Enspire. How have these programs helped enhance your students’ understanding of entrepreneurship?

Carla:  These programs are essential because they all provide real-world application. We all know classroom education is beneficial, but kids desire to see how they can apply it to their real life. In class curriculum is the foundation for financial literacy but these programs serve as additional building blocks of experience for their financial future.

Foundation: Emmanuel Christian Academy believes strongly in the importance of exposure to entrepreneurial role models. How do you decide which entrepreneurs to utilize and how do you prepare the students and entrepreneurs to ensure a meaningful experience?

Carla:  We try to select entrepreneurs that have a track record of good character and service within their communities, and we reinforce to both the community member and students that relationships/networking matters. The goal of these interactions is to help the community entrepreneur gain insight into the life and goals of the young entrepreneur while sharing their experiences and resources. We again reinforce to our students this is an opportunity so treat it as such because they may not have it again.

Deciding which entrepreneurs to use is a merit-based expectation. We have a standard with our entrepreneurs, and everyone is eligible to be in the forefront, but they understand that life as well as entrepreneurship is competition and those who excel in their preparation and execution will be in the forefront. They understand that opportunities like these are scarce and not available to most so the impact of the opportunity alone makes it a meaningful experience for them.

Foundation:  You have always done a great job at using formative assessment tools to further develop students’ entrepreneurial skills. Do you have any recommendations to other schools seeking to incorporate better assessment tools in their classrooms?

Carla:  I strongly believe that to ensure students are truly grasping the concepts each lesson should have a project-based component. This is essential for the educator to see that students have internalized the instruction and concepts in a way that they can properly apply them in the correct context and situation, and this is best seen with student projects and presentations.

Foundation:  We are excited that you decided to do your dissertation on the behavioral outcomes of youth entrepreneurship. Why did you select this topic and what implications does it have for those implementing behavioral interventions?  

Carla:  We have documented how students who have had severe discipline issues and infractions that we engaged with entrepreneurship have not only shown a significant decrease in office referrals and suspension but have also shown great academic gains. These students who were performing below average began to receive merit and honor roll as well as serve in mentorship roles for their peers and younger students. It is our assertion upon evaluating these improved behaviors and academic results that entrepreneurship serves to create a sense of confidence and accountability within these youths that makes them strive towards excellence and desire more for themselves and those around them. Many of our past and present program participants and families inform us that being exposed to and given the opportunity to create and actually implement their businesses at such a young age has been an amazing experience and has changed their mindset regarding what they believe they can do and be in life. It is these types of conversations and interactions that let us know the methods we are using to expose youth to entrepreneurship are effective and this is why I am interested in delving deeper into this self-efficacy component of entrepreneurial learning, as I think it can greatly serve to improve educational outcomes and graduation rates.