Steamboat Springs At the Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning five-day program at Colorado Mountain College last week, teachers gained skills to teach students ways to make a living in rural communities through the creation of a job or business.
"I have seen the difference teaching entrepreneurship has made in students lives. They see the possible and the steps to take to reach their goal," said Scott Ford, counselor of the CMC Small Business Center.
Mark St. Clair, director of the program, said REAL was initially started because rural towns were losing their top students to job opportunities in larger cities.
By becoming an entrepreneur, people can create their own line of work in almost any area, he said.
"Towns are dying; the kids that can make a difference are out of there. It is sad you can't make a living in your own small town," St. Clair said.
Ford said he thinks the job opportunities in the Routt County area are limited, but with perseverance and hard work people can make a living here.
He said many local businesses have participated in the weeklong process to give teachers an idea of the challenges of starting a business.
"I like the approach REAL takes and I have a lot of respect for these educators because they want to make a difference in the communities they live in," Ford said. "They help students during a critical time of their lives learn how to make a job rather than just take a job."
St. Clair said as a teacher in Washington, he uses many of the REAL education techniques to give his students a glimpse of what they can accomplish on their own.
He said students are required to build their own business plan instead of learning by using a textbook.
St. Clair said research has shown students retain information if it is a real product and their ideas are presented to a real audience.
At the high school level the goal is not to start a business but to realize that there are many options that do not necessarily include going to college.
He said REAL focuses on creating hands-on activities that have a direct relevance to the business world.
Students who are disenchanted with traditional teaching methods often thrive with REAL teaching methods because of the direct application.
St. Clair said the students who struggle with the method are often the top students who excel in test taking and like to know what it is they are expected to learn.
Teachers who participated in the program become students for a good portion of the time. Program leaders implemented lessons for teachers, so they could see how a lesson should look in practice.
The methodology of teaching is different for the REAL program.
The biggest adjustment for teachers is "not being the giver of knowledge but the facilitator of discovery," St. Clair said.
High school and college teacher Wendy Robertson of Alabama said it is often hard to motivate students with traditional teaching methods but thinks that the REAL program makes teaching a lot more fun and interesting for the students.
"We learn how to better inspire students to be entrepreneurs," she said.
REAL is a national organization that holds three intensive workshops a year to high school or college level teachers.
The conference is geared for teachers who teach marketing, accounting and computer applications, although teachers in other disciplines can attend as well.
Science teacher Felecia Briggins of Greensboro, Ala. hopes to use the ideas she gains from the program to motivate and inspire her students. She said when she teaches chemistry, she thinks the overall teaching methodology will be a great asset.