One of the many challenges facing rural communities today is the out-migration of youth after high school. Fortunately, some people are realizing one of the answers to this problem is involving youth in entrepreneurship.
By empowering educators and involving community leaders and businesses in the process, we can strengthen our communities and provide youth with the education and resources needed to sustain personal and professional long-term growth. This growth will, in turn, generate a boost to rural economies.
Educators can play a significant role in this growth. One of the answers is incorporating entrepreneurship into the subjects currently being taught. Over the past four years, with funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the University of Kentucky has worked with over 200 teachers in economically distressed Appalachian counties to incorporate entrepreneurship into the classroom.
Our evaluations from teachers and students who have participated reflect that entrepreneurship stimulates creativity among students and taps into their interests. It helps students develop their potential, especially the C students who may be only marginally engaged.
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Entrepreneurship awakens students to engage more fully in their education. It boosts their self-esteem and provides them with a can-do attitude. They look forward to going to school, getting feedback on their ideas and progressing through the steps to turn their idea into a business. We need to keep students in school because they want to be there. We must open up their imaginations and help them see more economic possibilities for their future.
"We are educated out of creativity" is a firm belief of creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. Creativity can be enhanced in the classroom through a mix of creativity, personal initiative, opportunity recognition, intelligent risk taking, collaboration and having a can-do attitude.
All entrepreneurs are not necessarily the high achievers. Entrepreneurship traits transcend gender and ethnicity. We need students who can identify their unique passions, skills and competitive advantages that give them an edge as they pursue a higher education, enter the workforce, and/or become an entrepreneur.
Current trends across the country suggest that high school youth exposed to entrepreneurship curricula increase their occupational aspirations, interest in college, reading and leadership behavior following participation in the program. In fact, six months after the students' involvement in the program, 70 percent were in college, 63 percent were employed and 1 in every 3 students ran a small business.
We need a bolder approach in rural Kentucky. Why not provide all students with the opportunity to have an entrepreneurial education? An entrepreneurial mindset not only benefits youth but also gives the communities that work to foster this way of thinking a built-in solution to fill in the gaps in the business community.
Being able to look at a community with fresh eyes and see what is missing and steer our thought processes to be creative and innovative can positively impact the economic vibrancy of rural Kentucky and develop businesses at the same time.
A solid entrepreneurial program brings families, schools and the community together and provides youth the tools to develop businesses and grow the economies of rural Kentucky. After developing a product or service business, youth are excited to showcase what they have done and make sales in their communities, and they take pride in their accomplishments.