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21st Century Education: Local educators challenge students to think like entrepreneurs


There’s a lot of talk among business leaders and educators across the country regarding 21st century skills. Many are making lists. And, while the frameworks vary, most agree that four key skills are paramount: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

Historically, schools – from kindergarten to college – have not been the places were those skills were taught. Xanthe Meyer, incubator program director for the Parkway School District’s SPARK! program, is among the local educators who say that education model is broken and things need to change.

“College kids,” Meyer said, “lack soft skills: communication, problem solving, grit. We need to start teaching these concepts in kindergarten and instill a growth mindset at all ages.”

No less a global business leader than Richard Branson also is an advocate for teaching entrepreneurial skills.

“I want to see education reimagined to support creative minds and alternative thinkers,” he wrote in a recent blog post. “I want to see possibilities explored and children having adventures.”

Meyer and Branson also are joined by educators and schools across the region who are preparing future generations for life outside the classroom. Some examples of those efforts include Parkway’s SPARK! program, Rockwood’s Project Interface program [see related story on page 24] and business internship/CCE curriculum; the St. Charles County CAPS program; and DECA, a 501[c][3] organization that seeks to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.


DECA attracts participants  in high schools and colleges around the globe. As members, those students have access to:

• Classroom instruction and applied learning opportunities that are “aligned with 21st century skills in the areas of critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation.

• Leadership Conferences, Career Pathway Conferences and Career Development Conferences; the latter of which provides a venue for DECA’s Competitive Events Program.

• Local and global businesses that provide  realistic insight into industry as well as opportunities for internships, mentoring and career shadowing.

• The Emerging Leader Series, which DECA defines as the core of its experience. According to DECA’s website, the goal of the series is to empower DECA members to provide effective leadership through goal setting, consensus building and project implementation.

DECA has a 75-year history.


Parkway’s SPARK! program was founded six years ago by Meyer and Dr. Jennifer Stanfill, Parkway’s director of Choice Programs. Offering six career strands – engineering, bioscience, technology solutions, health sciences, teaching and learning, and the original incubator – SPARK! allows students to explore career paths based on their talents and interests while following a fluid curriculum that is influenced by industry partners and trends. The students are supported by a network of business and community partners who provide off-site learning during the school day, for which they receive academic credit.

SPARK! works with all kinds of business partners, including Fortune 500 companies, colleges, small businesses and politicians.

“The more we have industry people in schools, the better,” Meyer said.


Nichole Whitesell, Ed.S., is the director of the St. Charles County CAPS [Center for Advanced Professional Studies] program. Like Meyer, she facilitates connections between businesses and students.

Now in its 11th year, CAPS began in Kansas. Today, it has 54 programs in 14 states and two countries.

Before launching CAPS in St. Charles, the county’s Economic Development Department visited the CAPS program in Northland, Kansas. That was in February 2017. The following school year saw the start of the healthcare strand in St. Charles County. The creation of the program’s global business and entrepreneurship strand followed. Whitesell started the tech strand in January 2018. All three programs operate as SCCCAPS and students from the Francis Howell, Fort Zumwalt, St. Charles City, Wentzville, Orchard Farm and Lincoln County R-III districts have access to all three strands.

Around 150 juniors and seniors participate each year, with priority given to seniors. There are no prerequisites or minimum GPA requirements. In fact, Whitesell said she is willing to take a chance on kids who may not have a high GPA or the best attendance record.

“When learning is relevant and they are with like-minded kids, it’s amazing what they can do,” she explained.

Likewise, Meyer said she has found that entrepreneurs are often the middle-of-the-road kids not the top students and not those who need learning support. Entrepreneurs often are the kids that seem to be average and don’t have anything specifically geared to them.

The CAPS application process consists of three open-ended questions. The goal is to discover what experiences led the student to the program, the student’s desired career path, ideas for their future, what they hope to gain and what they believe they can offer.

“Business people then interview them and the kids have to earn [their internships]; they don’t just get it,” Whitesell explained.

She said initially there was some resistance from local businesses about offering high school students unpaid internships. When she struggled to get Charter Communications on board, she invited them to go to Kansas to learn more about the program. Charter ended up not only getting involved as a business partner but also offering some students a full-time paid position as business analysts after their internships.

“Developing future talent is the best decision a company can make,” Whitesell said.

CAPS students complete a passion project and in the process learn “soft skills,” such as communication, collaboration and presentation. They begin by pitching ideas to experts who give them feedback on both their ideas and their presentation skills.

“Businesses don’t want to teach the soft skills, or what I call the essential skills. We start with those skills,” Whitesell said. “We also bring in people to tell the story of their businesses. Students learn that fear is often what keeps people from starting.”

According to Whitesell, CAPS instructors teach their students to ask themselves three questions: What are you good at? What are you passionate about? Can you make money? Discovering their passion can lead to innovation and result in economic success.

Other opportunities

Scott Drachnik, executive director of the Missouri Job Center of St. Charles said he looks forward to the CAPS program expanding. He also looks forward to seeing increased participation in Missouri Manufacturing Day, an annual event sponsored by Missouri Enterprise and held this year in conjunction with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and local businesses. On Oct. 4, approximately 1,000 students from St. Charles area school districts had the opportunity to meet local business leaders and visit with local manufacturers. Manufacturing is one of Missouri’s top industries.

An employment expert, Drachnik lauded the Career Explorations Alliance, a CAPS program that provides thousands of students the opportunity to experience an occupation or profession for a short period within the workplace, during a typical workday. He also applauded the work of Junior Achievement of Greater St. Louis, a branch of the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving kindergarten through grade 12 students the skills and knowledge to be responsible for their economic success. On its website, Junior Achievement states that its “programs help prepare young people for the real world by showing them how to generate wealth and effectively manage it, how to create jobs which make their communities more robust, and how to apply entrepreneurial thinking to the workplace.”

All of these opportunities offer a good starting place for the select group of students who avail themselves of these resources. The key is reaching more students and sooner.

“More could be done, but there certainly are opportunities [now],” Drachnik said.

According to Junior Achievement, 91% of millennials wish they had been given greater access to entrepreneurial education programs. Likewise, businesses are clamoring for employees with 21st century skills. Getting to that perfect intersection of education and implementation is a 21st century challenge for educators and students alike.

“Entrepreneurship is important,” Meyer explained. “Every person needs to look for opportunity.”

Global Entrepreneurship Week 2019

Founded in 2007, Global Entrepreneurship Week, Nov. 18-24, celebrates what DECA, SPARK!, CAPS and others are trying to instill in future generations.

On the campus of Lindenwood University, Global Entrepreneurship Week [GEW] is hosted by the Duree Center for Entrepreneurship, home of The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program.

According to the Duree Center website, the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program is designed to inspire and engage participants in the fundamental aspects of an entrepreneurial mindset and the unlimited opportunities it can provide. Additionally, it enables participants to learn from the first-hand experience of successful real-world entrepreneurs.

Inspired by the life-story of Pulitzer nominee Clifton Taulbert, The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program draws on the eight life lessons described in “Who Owns the Ice House?”, which Taulbert co-authored with Gary Schoeniger, founder and CEO of The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative. Both Taulbert and Schoeniger will be featured at multiple GEW events, including the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce’ Lunch with Leaders event on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

CAPS participant Chase Brown [right] with Clifton Taulbert [left] in 2018.

Global Entrepreneurship Week events:

• Monday, Nov. 18 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. when Dr. JR Love, project manager for Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Opportunity at the University of Mississippi presents “How Mississippi is growing youth entrepreneurship with community partnerships.” This presentation takes place at Dunseth Auditorium in Harmon Hall with lunch provided.

• Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. when St. Charles businessman Rick Duree, founder of the Duree Center, presents lessons from his book, “52 Proverbs of Profit.” Duree will sign free copies of his book following the presentation. This presentation takes place at Dunseth Auditorium in Harmon Hall with lunch provided.

Also on Tuesday, an Open House Fundraiser for DECA/CAPS students will be held in the Duree Center. Free copies of “Who Owns the Ice House?” will be available for signing by authors Gary Schoeniger and Clifton Taulbert, who also will speak briefly about having an entrepreneurial mindset.

• Wednesday, Nov. 20 from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce Lunch with Leaders program at St. Peters Cultural Arts Center, 1 St. Peters Centre Blvd., located within city hall. Admission is $30 for members; $35 for guests. Registration is required online at or by calling (636) 946-0633.

Also on Wednesday, from 3-4 p.m., Taulbert and Schoeniger will discuss “How to Create an Entrepreneurial University,” which fits perfectly with Lindenwood’s mission of real experience for real success. Testimonial by Dr. Jacob Pittroff, a Lindenwood adjunct professor and the business chair at Christian Brothers College High in West St. Louis County, will address how entrepreneurial mindset training has changed CBC.

Student Essay Contest

During the chamber luncheon on Nov. 20, the Duree Center will award one high school student $500 for best answering the question: “Why is an entrepreneurial mindset critical to the success of my generation?” The essay contest is sponsored, in part, by Mid Rivers Newsmagazine. Submitted essays must be at least 200 words in length and include the student’s full name, phone number, email address and high school name. Entries should be emailed to no later than Oct. 31.

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