ALTON — Beginning in 2016, local students will have the opportunity to participate in a new program, designed to give high school seniors the chance for an alternative learning experience outside of the classroom.
Next fall, up to 22 students from Alton High School and Marquette Catholic High School will begin the Riverbend Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) program. This opportunity allows students to see firsthand how area businesses operate.
Students will each be assigned a business mentor, tour businesses and hear multiple guest speakers throughout the year. Students also will be required to start their own businesses, which will be showcased at an annual trade show.
“It’s about educating students about what’s going on right here in the Riverbend, in their own community,” RiverBend Growth Association President Monica Bristow said. “They think they have to go someplace else to make it. They don’t realize all of the wonderful things that are right here.”
The RBGA was instrumental in bringing the CEO program to the area. The program is one of many that originated from the Midland Institute of Entrepreneurship in Effingham, Ill. Midland was founded by Executive Director Craig Lindvahl and has been the starting point of multiple CEO programs, now in 4 states and 41 school districts.
Last year, the Granite City School District adopted the program, thanks to area businessmen Marc Voegele and Jonathan Ferry, who was economic development director at the time.
Marc Voegele, chairman on the CEO board of the Granite City program and vice chairman of the Riverbend CEO program, also is the owner of Express Employment Professionals in Edwardsville. He is pleased with what he has seen in Granite City so far.
“I can honestly say that the whole program positively impacted all of those students who finished,” Voegele said.
One goal of the Riverbend CEO program is to make high school seniors aware of economic opportunities available in their hometowns. Granite City High School is in the second year of the program, and students have discovered just how much opportunity there is in this area, according to Alton School District Curriculum Coordinator Cindy Inman.
“Many high school students cannot wait to move away from their hometowns,” Inman said. “These students want to stay in their community and give back.”
The program also helps students make contacts in the business community before they get out of school.
“I feel that this program will allow students to network and begin in the business field four to five times earlier than most people,” Jodie Zipprich, junior/senior academic adviser at Marquette Catholic High School, said. “Many do not get this opportunity until they are graduating from college or entering their first career as an adult.”
In addition to making professional contacts, many of the students’ own businesses have ended up being quite lucrative.
“Many kids have paid for their college education this way,” Bristow said.
Students will be able to apply for the program in January. There will be requirements, such as providing letters of recommendation. Grades, however, are not a deciding factor.
“It’s open to the ‘A’ students, the valedictorians, and it’s just as open to the kid who finds himself down at the principal’s office for being a little bit of an instigator,” Voegele said. “For students who may not respond as well to traditional teaching methods, this is different enough where those kids can really shine.”
The Riverbend CEO program receives all of its funding from the investments of local businesses.
“Funding for the program comes from the business community, so it’s a win-win situation for the schools, for the kids, for the investors, and actually for the community, as a whole,” Voegele said.
Several area businesses have already made a commitment to the Riverbend CEO program, but more investors are needed.
“Right now, we’re seeking funding, teachers and mentors,” Bristow said.
For information on how to get involved with the Riverbend CEO program, contact the RiverBend Growth Association at (618) 467-2286.