Young entrepreneurs are being molded in Lewis and Clark County through a variety of high school business classes.
Capital High and Helena High School each offer between 15 and 20 different business classes. While having more modest offerings, Jefferson High School also offers some basic and advanced business classes.
Schools require students to take some form of business course for career and technical education credit. Although, some students prefer technical training such as wielding for obtaining this credit. In the case of Jefferson, a freshman level and senior level class are required outright.
"Students often take one business course to get their CTE credit requirement fulfilled," said Terri Norman, Capital High business teacher. "But a growing number of students are continuing on to take additional or advanced business courses as they are realizing the need to be college or career ready, and the benefit that these high school courses provide."
Norman said Capital's courses help introduce students to the working world and ultimately ease the transition into college, job training or careers. The school also offers dual-credit opportunities, through partnership with Montana Big Sky Pathways and Helena College, in accounting, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. Norman said these classes provide students with a rigorous college-level of curriculum to help prepare them to move onto the next step of their career path.
The most popular business course is money management, a personal finance course. Norman said this course is available to all students and teaches a variety of finance-related topics including budgeting, saving, spending, checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, debit cards, loans, investing, consumer awareness, identity theft and much more.
"This course is highly recommended for all students," Norman said. "They receive real-world knowledge and skills applicable to everyone that can be put to use immediately and that will help prepare them for adulthood."
Though important, personal finance is merely the tip of the offerings at Capital. The school offers advanced and specialized courses such as law and justice, sports and entertainment marketing, senior career planning, tech skills for life and marketing management. Norman said some classes, like AP economics, are only offered when enrollment is high enough.
Helena High also has an incredibly diverse range of offerings and leans heavily on computer and technical skills for their business curriculum.
Business teacher John Hollow outlined many of the advanced classes offered at Helena High including: Jobs for Montana Graduates, desktop publishing, office management, business co-op work experience, consumer math and small business management 2, where students spend an entire year helping run the Catty Shack school store.
"We have a great department that offers a bunch of typical business courses," Hollow said. "But also some really unique courses not many other schools in Montana offer."
The business co-op work experience elective is a particularly compelling experience in which business students receive classroom instruction and related on-the-job training. This happens through an agreement between Helena High and area employers.
Hollow explained that students who are accepted for the program are released from school one class period each day upon availability of employment. They work in a Helena-area business and earn minimum wage. School credit and grades are reflective of how much the student works and their on-the-job performance.
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Relationships with local businesses is a common thread among high school business departments.
Dawn Smartnick, Jefferson High business teacher, said she maintains a business relationship with the local Madison Valley Bank. Madison Valley sponsors learning materials for the classroom and comes into the classroom to educate students about deposit accounts, loans, investment and more.
Smartnick said, Scott Connole of Stockman Bank Insurance comes to her classroom regularly to teach students about vehicle and homeowners insurance.
"Having these relationships with our local businesses is a huge asset to the business education program at JHS," Smartnick said. "Without them, we couldn't have the success or opportunities we have today."
Local business owners have said soft skills are a major concern. However, teachers are focusing on these skills in business courses. Resumes, cover letters, job applications, attendance, attitude, appearance, accountability, motivation and teamwork are some of the most commonly stressed skills at Capital, Norman said.
At Jefferson, Smarnick said her classroom expectations include common soft skills that each student is expected to follow, including a positive attitude, good communication, good time management and problem solving.
Area business teachers don't rest on their laurels. Both Capital and Helena run committees that communicate with area business owners and others in the workforce to discuss the transition from high school to college and careers. They hope that through these partnerships they can better address the needs of the local economy.
"They help us understand what the job market wants our students to come out of school prepared to do," Hollow said. "That helps us structure our curriculum toward the needs of today's workplace."
Norman said the need stressed to her by business owners is work ethic.
"Business owners report that the majority of the skills necessary for the positions they offer can be taught," Norman said. "They seek first to employ candidates who possess strong work ethic. It has been shown that if candidates have strong work ethic, most are trainable for the specific tasks necessary for nearly any job."
This is the goal for these teachers and business classes; to mold students to meet the workforce needs of their community. Norman said the classes exist to not only give students a better understanding of business, but to make them realize that business is part of every occupation to some degree.
"Our hope is that we can introduce students to business, show them the possibilities that skills and knowledge in business can lead to, and prepare them to enter the workforce and be successful," Norman said.