The Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce had another ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new business in town on Friday, but this business' location is a high school classroom, and the staff consists of nine Crestwood High School students.
"How can this …
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"How can this be?" one might ask.
Well, it's the virtual enterprise class at Crestwood. The class is part of the high school's Career and Technology Education curriculum, and students build a virtual business via the web, according to teacher Linda Avery.
The firm's name is C. Wood (think "Crestwood") & Associates, and they are doing business as C. Wood TV, which is a news-broadcasting company.
Morning and afternoon announcements done over the intercom at the school will soon also be able to be seen on C. Wood TV's YouTube channel, Facebook page and its website. The virtual news broadcaster will provide school news, sports and feature broadcasting.
C. Wood TV at Crestwood High is one of only about a dozen virtual enterprise classrooms this year in the state, according to Avery. Many more exist across the U.S., and all are under the umbrella of Virtual Enterprises International - based in New York - which facilitates the online business curriculum.
Virtual enterprise classrooms across the country submit a business plan to Virtual Enterprises International, and students learn real-life skills while transforming into business professionals.
Crestwood's virtual enterprise class of nine students meets during one block (90 minutes) from 12:05 p.m. to 1:35 p.m. each day of the week at the school. The nine-member staff actually clocks in and out daily with timecards. The class is for the entire school year.
Crestwood senior Gerald Mallard is chief executive officer this year at C. Wood & Associates/C. Wood TV.
Each Monday, he leads a staff meeting and discusses tasks for the week for the nine-person business, which is divided into various departments including human resources, accounting/finance, information technology, administration and sales/marketing.
As a virtual enterprise news broadcasting company, C. Wood TV will sell cable packages, advertising and commercial time to other virtual enterprise school firms across the state and nation with "virtual money" on its website, Mallard said. The site even includes a shopping cart application.
Avery and the student staff said they also want to actually sell advertising to local businesses as well, including marquees, sponsorships, commercials and ad space on its YouTube channel and website.
The virtual enterprise class has been at Crestwood since about 2009, Avery said. Over time, the classes have pursued different business ventures. One year, the class acted as a virtual travel agency; another year, it was a real estate firm.
The C. Wood TV venture started last year at the school, Avery said, and students laid the foundation for the virtual firm by recording their first shows on YouTube.
Currently, the nine-member class is getting a crash course in learning the science of video editing and putting pieces of video together in a seamless fashion.
The students said they enjoy the class, even though it's a lot of work.
"It's not like another class where you sit down and read the textbook," Mallard said. "With this, you actually have to be really invested in what you're doing."
In the spring, the virtual enterprise school firms across the state will meet for a centralized trade fair, according to Avery. She said it's like a real trade show, and it's neat for the students to actually meet other students that they have only communicated with virtually beforehand.
In the class, students learn initiative, creativity and organizational skills among many other skills, Avery said.
She said the virtual setting is just about as close to real as you can get. For example, she said, when virtual enterprise school websites first started, many people thought it was real life.
"The websites that the students put together looked so good that when people came across them online, they would want to buy from them and actually contacted the schools," Avery said. "The schools would have to tell them: 'No, no, you can't actually buy.'"
Because of this, there's now a mandate that each virtual enterprise school in the U.S. must put on its website that it's a virtual enterprise firm for educational purposes only.
"Otherwise, people would call in because the websites look so good," Avery said. "So, that's a clue that you are doing a pretty good job when people think it's real."
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