Business casual. Handshakes. PowerPoint presentations, pitches and customer surveys.
You would think you’d just walked into the boardroom in a downtown Milwaukee business. But, in fact, you’re among a group of upperclassmen from Pewaukee High School.
Pewaukee juniors and seniors have the opportunity to sign up for a capstone class called “Insight.” The program is basically a real-world equivalent of the television show “Shark Tank” – students create, design and pitch business startups over the course of semester.
Teacher JJ Heesch designed Insight because he wanted to give students hands-on experience in a simulated “real-world” setting. Heesch himself came to teaching after 10 years in the private sector, and says he wanted to use that experience to help train students for the modern workforce.
He grew Insight out of a business class project originally modeled after "The Apprentice" television show.
"When I would give feedback to students, I was viewed as the teacher. When I brought a professional in, that give essentially the same feedback I did, students really grasped onto that feedback - because he's doing it, he's the professional," Heesch recalls. "It was based on that project, that we realized we had to do something like it, but on a bigger scale."
So, Heesch worked with his district to launch Insight last school year. Throughout the course of the semester, Insight students develop their startups from ideas to full-fledged projects. Once their businesses are fully developed, students will pitch to local investors.
"I want students to have real-world, resume-building experiences," Heesch says. And for students who take the course without intending to pursue business, he adds, he wants them to leave with "the understanding of how the real-world works, through the experiences we provide."
Fittingly, the Insight "classroom" looks nothing like your typical high school setting. The whole course takes place offsite, in a storefront office Pewaukee High rents out to add to students’ experience of “going to work.”
Students say this is just one of the aspects of Insight they like best.
"This doesn't feel like a class," says junior Zenkar Kollurmath. "We're interacting, we're collaborating. It's not a traditional classroom."
"I think we learn a lot of social skills," adds senior Brittany Aiello. "We're learning how to interact, and be able to communicate with other kinds of people. Even presenting in front of a big group is something that not a lot of people can do! But it's definitely something we're learning, and I feel like it's really going to help us prepare for college."