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Twelve-year-old Delaney Green is an entrepreneur who’s an expert in picking the healthiest oils to mix into her handmade peach and strawberry lip glosses.
She raised startup cash from her family to produce and market the line of lip gloss, got some tips during a school field trip to Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center and created her own business cards with partner Alexis Johnson.
Delaney and Alexis hatched the idea for their D and A’s Style Bowtique during the COVID pandemic lockdown when it was challenging to shop because of store closures and supply chain delays.
Along with lip gloss priced at $7, the pair create glass bead bracelets for $8 each and colorful fashion hair bows that sell for $5 to $8.
“We deliver at school and to homes for family members,” says Delaney, as she assembles bracelets in the school’s tech lab where students have access to 3D printing, laser engraving and vinyl printing equipment.
On a recent Monday morning, her classmates were brainstorming about ideas or working on ventures already in progress, including a heated and weighted backpack that aims to reduce back pain for wearers.
Besides creating businesses, students are responsible for hiring employees, selling products and handling returns.
Eighth-grader Destiny Folks, 14, aspires to be a lawyer and manages a company that offers painting lessons to young children starting at $15 per hour.
“I learned every part of my business here,” says Destiny, who has exhibited her own artwork at the Gallery on Centre in the Hill District and at other locations.
“We’re capturing the entire entrepreneurship mindset,” says Debra Titus, the school’s entrepreneurial education coach. “Our students have confidence, poise and a level of collaboration I’ve never seen in my life.”
Expanding its mission
After operating for more than a decade as a chartered public school in the Penn Hills School District, Penn Hills Charter now plans to share its expertise with other schools in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties that serve low-income areas where residents “are historically underrepresented in entrepreneurship,” says Wayne Jones, the school’s CEO.
In December, the Richard King Mellon Foundation awarded a $250,000 grant to MicroSociety Inc., the Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides the educational model for grades K-6 at Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship.
The funds will be used to train staff to deliver curriculum to students and educators from other districts through virtual and in-person learning sessions and events.
The aim is to recruit up to three new schools into the network, MicroSociety said in a news release.
“Our expansion will give many more students in Pittsburgh exciting opportunities to improve the technology, academic, social, emotional and career-readiness skills they need to succeed in the high-tech, high-skill, high-wage workplace of the future,” said Carolynn King Richmond, president & CEO of MicroSociety.
The nonprofit Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship supplies programs for seventh and eighth graders at Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship.
The school opened in 2011 in a former Penn Hills elementary building in Verona. In 2016, it relocated to its existing site in another former Penn Hills School District property on Main Street. It leased the 51,000-square-foot facility before acquiring it for $3 million in 2018.
Current enrollment in grades K-8 is about 450 and administrators project that more than 500 students will attend the school during the 2023-24 academic year. There is already a waiting list with 100 names.
“That’s a good problem for us to have,” says Jones. “There’s a positive buzz surrounding our school.”
Approximately 80% of enrolled students live in Penn Hills; the rest come from neighboring districts including Gateway, Plum, Woodland Hills, Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh Public Schools. The majority are Black students.
To accommodate its steady growth, the school is constructing an 11,000-square-foot addition that will include a playground, expanded parking and outdoor lighting.
A $12 million bond issue led by PNC Financial Services Group is funding the project. A $1.5 million Pennsylvania Charter School Program Grant is being used for new furniture, equipment, staffing and a passenger van.
When COVID shutdowns forced schools to shift to remote learning, Penn Hills Charter was prepared to offer its core subjects virtually, says Jessica Zuk, the school’s principal. But providing entrepreneurship lessons in that format was more challenging, she says.
In 2021, after learning the Richard King Mellon Foundation’s newly unveiled strategic plan included a focus on “economic mobility” — an innovative way of using education to help people move out of poverty status — Penn Hills Charter thought it might be eligible for a grant and invited foundation officials to take a look at its entrepreneurship-focused curriculum.
The philanthropy awarded $250,000 to MicroSociety for a pilot to convert its programs to an online platform including virtual banking for student transactions.
The pilot program includes developing partnerships with local universities including Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh, nonprofits and businesses.
Besides daily class times devoted to entrepreneurship, the concept is woven into core classes, says Zuk. In English, for instance, students apply letter-writing skills to their businesses.
They also elect student government representatives to help run the MicroSociety.
Cassidy Johnson, 10, is the current vice president; Alaya Franklin, 11, is speaker of the House.
“It feels good to be a leader, especially when I speak,” says Alaya as she and Cassidy, both fifth graders, lead visitors on a tour of the school.
Students in seventh and eighth grade from Penn Hills Charter and other schools will deliver five-minute pitches that detail their products, financials and the social responsibility elements of their firms. Cash prizes will be awarded.
Joyce Gannon is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.
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Through Dec. 31, the Wyncote Foundation, Loud Hound Foundation and our generous local match pool supporters will match your new monthly donation 12 times or double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000. Now that's good news!
Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're proud to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward.
However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.
Your MATCHED donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.