South Side High School’s business department and the Rockville Centre Chamber of Commerce recently joined forces to help promote the school’s budding business clubs and courses.
Chamber members, who met with school officials, business teachers, students and South Side alumni on Feb. 28, were encouraged to hire students who are interested in business careers as interns.
The interest in business at district schools has been growing for the past few years. When the International Baccalaureate business program was introduced at the high school six years ago, a couple of dozen students registered to take the courses. More than 140 students are registered for next year — one-third of all South Side juniors.
Students who meet I.B. course requirements receive an I.B. diploma in addition to the state Regents diploma when they graduate. Business and marketing are the most popular courses.
As a result of the program’s growth, and the addition of a virtual enterprise course, the school has doubled its business teaching staff, from two to four.
“We knew the community was interested in it,” Assistant Principal Ben Moss said. “We had really high enrollment in our business courses, and so we grew the business program.”
Students want to learn real-world skills, Moss added. “It’s by far our most popular elective,” he said of I.B. Business. “Kids want to feel that what they’re learning is practical, not only for college but for real life, and that’s what they’re learning.”
The I.B. classes include partnerships with local businesses, and students write papers that address those businesses’ challenges. This year, businesses are looking to be even more involved.
“We’re working with them in theory, and we could be doing more,” said Peter English, who was hired to teach the school’s first I.B. Business class. “We love working with these businesses, but we want to take that a step further and see what connections we can make through internships, job possibilities, and ways we can work together in unison.”
The school has reached out to several members of the village chamber, including Polka Dog Pound Cake and Backyard Players and Friends, and Ferring Deli in Baldwin, a member of the Baldwin chamber. Administrators and students have also worked on going through the financial aid process with Molloy University and LIU Post.
Lisa Umansky, president of the chamber and owner of Polka Dot Pound Cake, said she was excited about the growing collaboration between local businesses and the school.
“Hopefully this is the first of many other connections … whether it’s mentorships or job opportunities,” Umansky said. “Clearly, these kids are really into it, so we hope this is just the start.”
English played a pivotal role in the school’s DECA program when he started teaching at South Side seven years ago. He had been involved in the organization for several years, and was responsible for revitalizing the DECA Club at the high school.
Founded in 1946, DECA is a nonprofit organization that prepares high school students to be leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. The DECA Club started with only 10 students, and now has more than 100. This year, 80 of them will take part in the DECA state competition, and school officials expect that 20 could go on to compete at the national level competition.
“The big questions students ask every day are, What am I learning in school? How can it be applied to what I’m doing?” English said. “They want to see more and more of that, and our business classes answer that question for them every day.”
Gina Kadar, a first-year business teacher at the high school, teaches college-level marketing and entrepreneurship and introductory business courses. Among the topics she focuses on are financial management, credit card debt and career management — in which students write resumes and explore career options.
“We didn’t have DECA at my previous school, so it’s really cool to see now, and I’m learning it, too,” Kadar said. “I worked in the business field for 10 years in H.R., and what the students are learning, these are real-world situations, working in companies that are great for them.”
The high school’s business curriculum emphasizes the discussion of current events. “We can take something that’s happening, today or now, and we can relate it to whatever terminology we’re studying,” English said. “That’s what separates our class from the other classes. Every single minute, there’s something happening in the business world that a student can have a question on, and it’s going to relate to something that we’re learning in class or something we’ve just covered the day before, and that’s where you get engagement, and that’s where the interest comes from.”