Teens in West Hempstead take ownership

High school students planned virtual business program


For most high school students, January marks a return to classes and schoolwork after winter break.

For students at West Hempstead High School and 65 other Long Island schools, however, the start of the new year meant the clock was ticking for final preparations to compete in one of the biggest simulated business conferences in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The event — the Virtual Enterprises Regional Conference and Exhibition — was to feature 90 simulated businesses formed by high school groups. On Jan. 8 and 9, all of the “companies” were set to meet at Farmingdale State College.

“It blows your mind to watch these kids in this professional setting rise to the occasion,” said Nick Chapman, president of Virtual Enterprises International. “I think that spurs the growth of this program more than anything, and I’m just really excited to see the students of West Hempstead pulling this whole event together.”

Twenty-three students from West Hempstead High’s two virtual enterprise classes organized the conference — doing everything from finding judges for the business plan competition to laying out the booth arrangements on the trade show floor. While they were doing that, they were also preparing themselves for the contest and creating their trade booth.

“This program provides such a different environment than anything else they do in school,” said Michael Silberman, the high school’s business teacher responsible for VE. “Everything in this program is real except for the money and the product.”

The two-day conference was expected to attract nearly 1,400 students, teachers and judges. West Hempstead’s juniors and seniors have taken part in the program for the last six years. Through this course, Sliberman said, students learn more than just business skills.

“I try to explain to my students that everything in life involves business,” Silberman said, “but a lot of the skills that students are gaining have to do with managing themselves. Whether it’s leadership skills, communication skills — both orally and written — or time management skills, these kids are getting the skills they need to be successful. It really encourages the kids to be responsible.”

The program also offers full scholarships to local colleges such as LIU Post and Molloy College. While organizing this year’s conference presented a new challenge for West Hempstead’s students, Silberman said that’s not his largest issue.

“The biggest problem I have is the kids don’t want to leave the class when the bell rings,” he said jokingly. “It’s exciting to watch them go to work each day and to see how engaged they are.”

He added that the course differs from other high school offerings because it is redesigned each year based on the students’ interests. “It’s really up to each kid to decide how much this program will benefit them,” Silberman said. “The kids who truly buy into the program walk out the door with an unbelievable skill set. That’s really what this program does.”

VE, which started with three high schools on Long Island in 2011 — one of them West Hempstead — might expand to middle schools.

“There’s a lot of conversation about the future of work right now and what that looks like,” Chapman said. “A lot of times, we’re the translator between education and industry, so we’re trying to take our cues from the world of business and work so that we can keep education moving at a pace that’s required to keep these kids prepared.”