Martin Aboriginal youth program expands
Candace LaFrance, Sioux Lookout branch manager for the Bank of Montreal, and Natalie Kamenawatamin, education counsellor with the Independent First Nations Alliance, with the Pehneshiish Bird Bath model they created during a five-minute exercise.
Community members gathered to learn about the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP) coming to Sioux Lookout’s high school were given an assignment.
They included First Nation entrepreneurs and student counsellors; representatives of government youth programs and the Town of Sioux Lookout; staff from Lac Seul Training Centre of Excellence and Confederation College; and business and bank managers.
Steve Poling, principal of Queen Elizabeth (QE) District High School, gave them their task and the materials they could work with – plastic cup and fork, stir sticks, paper plate, napkin, newspaper and to put it all together, duct tape. They needed to create a product to hypothetically sell, along with plans for marketing, pricing, profit and philanthropy. Working in pairs, the 16 participants at the Centennial Centre would have five minutes to get the job done.
“I want you to take a quick peek of what the experience is going to be like for the kids,” Poling said of the entrepreneurship program QE will offer students this fall.
Former prime minister Paul Martin and the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, with the support of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, started AYEP in 2007 for students attending Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nations High School in Thunder Bay, where the program continues.
The Ontario Government announced in April this year it would be a funding partner with the Martin Initiative to extend AYEP as a pilot program to students in grades 11 and 12 in 10 more high schools in the province.
In addition to QE in Sioux Lookout, schools piloting the program in northern Ontario are located in Fort Frances, Kenora, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, and Thunder Bay.
Across Canada, there are now 44 schools offering AYEP.
Sixteen students have already registered to take the program at QE starting in September, for two credits over two semesters, said Beth Dasno, lead teacher for AYEP at the school.
For the Grade 11 course in first semester, she said, students will think about products and services that could improve the quality of life in their communities; draw on their on their experiences and interests to come up with a business idea; and develop business plans over several months that in the end will be presented to a panel of judges.
In the Grade 12 course, students will transform their original business plans to e-commerce ventures, complete with websites and logos, for presentation at a trade show.
These hands-on activities will foster creativity and confidence, Dasno said, as students learn essential business skills such as oral and written communication, problem solving, math, financial management and record keeping.
If at the end of the coursework a student has a plan that qualifies, the Martin Initiative offers $500 to help with the summer startup of a “micro-business.”
For the classroom, the Martin Initiative engaged Aboriginal teachers who taught AYEP in its early years to develop the program’s current textbook and workbook.
Other resources will be business mentors and guest speakers – potentially some of those gathered at the Centennial Centre in Sioux Lookout.
For now, Poling had given them the product development work to do. Results of the exercise surprisingly impressed, given the tight timeframe. Product prototypes ranged from an Escape from Technology Kit to a bird-shaped napkin dispenser to a birdbath with a solar-powered water pump.
“This is kind of the vision (of AYEP) – people working together and creating,” Poling said after the product presentations. “Some of the ideas actually turn out to be great products and strong components of businesses.”
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