It’s not every day that you meet a teenager who helped start their own business. However, the exception is the rule in Christopher Talley’s Entrepreneurship class at Martinsville High School.
Freshmen through seniors at the only public high school in Martinsville are putting their textbook knowledge to real-world use—something 58% of Americans say should be a top priority in K-12 schools, according to a recent Navigator Research poll. The idea for “the Kennel,” an in-school cafe for teachers to relax and purchase snacks between classes, started in 2022 as a student learning project.
From the initial concept last year to opening day this fall, students played an invested role in the business’s development. They collaborated to develop a comprehensive business plan, which included market research, financial projections, and day-to-day operational details.
“To bring their vision to life, students visited stores to furnish the Kennel with essential equipment and accessories,” Talley said. “Through this process, they gained first-hand experience into the real-world decisions entrepreneurs make when launching a new venture.”
Located at nearby Martinsville Middle School, the Kennel is student-staffed and open Monday through Friday during school hours. To earn their retail positions, three high school students and one middle school student underwent an interview process with Shauna Hines, coordinator of career and technical education for Martinsville City Public Schools.
Robert Davis, a Martinsville High School senior, expressed excitement over the project-based learning opportunity.
“What sparked my interest was seeing how much of a positive change we at the Kennel could make for the staff of Martinsville Middle School,” Davis said. “For me, the most rewarding part was learning how to run my own business with hands-on experience.”
In his opinion, the biggest challenge of starting the business hinged on finding things that the staff might like to munch. The class provided a variety of samples to test what would do best on the menu. Ultimately, the group decided to sell soda, candy, bagels, and other treats.
The cafe opened in mid-October, and the student-run business is already teaching the young entrepreneurs valuable lessons.
“One main thing that I have learned about running a business is that your business is not always going to be busy like others,” Davis said. “We have some days where we are not busy at all and some days when we barely get a break.”
Through navigating the ups and downs of the business world at a high school level, Talley expressed hope that the experience would aid the students in their future endeavors.
“Our main aspiration is that students gain firsthand knowledge and experience into the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship. Hopefully, this will ignite someone to come back to our community and use all of their creativity, knowledge, and experience to become a successful local business owner,” he said. “And maybe one day the Kennel will become a pipeline to establishing more businesses and entrepreneurs in Martinsville, Virginia.”
For Davis, the cafe has him excited about what’s to come.
“I hope that this experience helps me in many ways in the future,” Davis said. “When I run my own store later in life, I will look back and see how the Kennel helped me.”
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