Teachers play a vital, life-long role in helping young people realize their potential. Nearly all Americans (98%!) believe that a good teacher can change the course of a student’s life. Almost 80% of students say a teacher has encouraged them to follow their dreams. With a vast and growing number of today’s youth dreaming about starting their own businesses someday, teachers are rising to the occasion, finding unique ways to nurture young entrepreneurial spirits.

This month, as we celebrate kidpreneurs who are making a difference in their communities, we’re also spotlighting the village of supporters who help them bring their visions to life. We recently spoke with Veronique Mareen, Farm and Kitchen Lead and Instructor at Austin Montessori School, to get her expert insight on how teachers can best support budding entrepreneurs both inside and outside of the classroom. Under Veronique’s leadership, Austin Montessori offers its adolescent students the opportunity to gain hands-on business experience through micro-economy projects utilizing the bounty from Gaines Creek Farm, the school’s on-site garden and beehive, as well as partnerships with local restaurants.

If you know a young entrepreneur who’s helping to change the way kids eat, or a school program with this focus, submit a video featuring their business in our #Wholekidsbiz sweepstakes by April 15 for the chance to win cash prizes totaling $5,000. Learn more at www.wholekidsfoundation.org/wholekidsbiz.

A Q&A with Austin Montessori’s Veronique Mareen

How have you inspired or encouraged your students to follow their entrepreneurial dreams?
In a Montessori classroom, one of the goals is to connect students to real work. When adolescents have ownership of their work, and they feel supported in taking initiative, they are excited and motivated to commit to work.

The role of the adult is to guide, work alongside, help problem solve and introduce curriculum and techniques that will help the adolescent succeed. The Gaines Creek Farm/garden is central to many micro-economy projects. On a daily basis, students have the time and resources to dedicate their attention to a project. Some of the projects were started several years ago, and the products are still a part of the market selection available today. An example of such a product is our Pop and Shake, a seasoning blend that is delicious on popcorn. Sometimes, students who have a special interest take on the role of manager. They help organize and plan the work that is connected to a certain project. In our weekly community meeting, they engage other students who want to help with the projects they lead.

All of the above is to illustrate that when ownership, support, and partnership combine in an environment that is deliberately set up to serve the needs of the adolescent, the natural inclination of the young entrepreneurs to think creatively, problem solve, and work in teams not only happens, it flourishes.

Why is this important to you?
Adolescents are leaving their childhood behind. They are on their way to becoming independent adults. I believe it is critical that they are supported and recognized as a powerful group of individuals, who, while they are experiencing emotional turmoil typical to adolescence, continue to present us all with an endless source of compassion, selflessness, and initiative. On a daily basis, we observe that their vision for the future, a future that has inherited real and very recognizable serious global issues, never fails to hold a collection of ideas and practical solutions, and most of all a sense of confidence and optimism.

It is a privilege to observe adolescents who are connected to work, who are solving problems, who are creative thinkers. What is even more amazing and important is that through connections to work, the adolescent feels “valorized.” This is a Montessori term which translates as the joy of experiencing that your contributions matter and that you are capable of making a difference. So, a young entrepreneur is our connection to a future of capable and happy adults with a strong sense of community. I can’t think of a more worthy cause, right?

At what age do you see students showing interest like this?
Our community has students of 12 - 15 years old. Their engagement and responsibility in micro-economy projects changes throughout their time with us. The adolescents in the beginning cycle (12 years old) are eager to get involved right away. As they get older, they become more capable of real "management," as they develop better forethought and meta-cognitive ability. Some students are born project leaders, and others feel more comfortable specializing in certain aspects of a project, but everybody finds a way to contribute.

What do you look for in your students to indicate they are interested in being an entrepreneur?

Since we offer the opportunity for this kind of entrepreneurial work on almost a daily basis, all students are at least introduced to the idea of product and exchange. For some that is all that is needed, and they choose to dedicate their time and energy towards certain projects. Things we recognize as being helpful are the same attributes we would look for in adults who are entrepreneurs. Those include:

  • A sense of responsibility
  • Having a good work ethic
  • Being able to bring your ideas to the table and presenting it in such a way that other people get excited about it
  • Recognizing your strengths and knowing when to ask for help
  • Most of the time, people work in groups, so being a great team member comes in handy
  • Leading by example
  • Not being afraid of making a mistake and then,to own it, and then move on
  • Following through on commitments
  • Putting in the extra time

What can parents do to support their aspiring entrepreneurs?
The role of a parent during the time of adolescence can be difficult and demanding. Just as the adolescent is reevaluating their relationship with their parents, the parents also need to rethink how they can best support their young adult. If an adolescent shares an idea for an entrepreneurial project with a parent, I would say that the first role of the parent would be to just really listen without having an agenda. Second, ask clarifying questions. Third, to let their child know they are available to help. If the adolescent reaches out, they will be open to a conversation, and a sharing of ideas. It is important to let the ownership of the project be that of the adolescent.

What’s the most important lesson you try to convey to inspire/support students to follow their dreams of creating their own businesses?
Make it happen. Make lots of mistakes but try not to make the same mistake twice. Reflect on the journey and celebrate success.

Know a young entrepreneur helping to change the way kids eat through gardening, plant-forward cooking or healthy eating? Share the #WholeKidsBiz Sweepstakes so they can submit a video about their business for the chance to win cash prizes totaling $5,000!

The #WholeKidsBiz Sweepstakes is the first step in determining interest and support needed to help young entrepreneurs and school business programs and will help guide a future pilot grant program.