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Students score high in the art of free enterprise

Special to The Times

At Santa Monica High School’s homecoming game Friday night, a team will be awarded championship rings during a halftime ceremony.

But tackles and touchdowns aren’t behind the honors. The students are being recognized for winning an international business competition held in Shanghai by Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship, or SAGE.

A professor at Cal State Chico founded the nonprofit program that encourages high school students around the world to succeed in business and be good citizens. The Santa Monica group won in part by developing marketing plans and products for Vike’s Inn and Vike’s Cafe, the high school’s student-run retail and food operations, which increased profit by a combined 34% during the last school year.

“I want these youth to think not only about how to make money but how they can improve their community,” said Cal State Chico business professor Curtis DeBerg.

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The 4-year-old SAGE program provides an avenue for high school students to create business and community service projects. The teams are judged in regional, national and international competitions that are like science fairs of entrepreneurship. Nearly 7,000 students have participated since the program began, DeBerg said.

The Santa Monica High seniors and juniors were named world champions after besting teams from seven other countries in August. They used projects created for their small-business classes to win the state and national championships last spring, as well as the SAGE World Cup.

DeBerg’s efforts received a boost this year when AACSB International, the major accrediting body for business administration and accounting programs at colleges and univer- sities worldwide, formed a Peace Through Commerce task force that cited SAGE as a model educational program.

SAGE is part of a growing movement to teach business skills and foster entrepreneurial zeal among teens.

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Junior Achievement, founded in 1919, is the grizzled veteran of the kid-trepreneur business.

Last year, the nonprofit Junior Achievement trained more than 7 million students worldwide in the value of free enterprise. The curriculum, which starts in elementary school, emphasizes financial literacy, career-development skills and how to organize and run student-powered businesses.

This school year, its Southern California chapter is launching a project to curb the dropout rate among Latino high school students. Modeled after a program launched in Georgia a few years ago, the Latino initiative will recruit local Latino business professionals to serve as role models and work with students.

And last week, Merrill Lynch & Co. gave $2.2 million to nine Southern California organizations that school young people in entrepreneurship and finances, part of a $4.3-million effort statewide.

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One of those groups is Food From the ‘Hood, which started at Crenshaw High School after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The nonprofit sells salad dressing at Southern California supermarkets and online, pulling in more than $200,000 in annual revenue. Half the profit is awarded as scholarships to seniors and the rest is put back into the company, which has a professional support staff of adults.

DeBerg created the SAGE program (www.csuchico.edu/sage) to bring his philosophy of service-oriented entrepreneurship to high school students.

He points to banker and economist Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi businessman who won the Nobel Peace Prize this month, as a prime example of a service entrepreneur. Yunus developed the concept of micro loans to help the world’s poorest people start businesses. His Grameen Bank is one of several thousand institutions making such loans worldwide.

The SAGE competition judges students from 200 member high schools worldwide on criteria such as community outreach, civic engagement, environmental stewardship and business success. Business owners, academics and civic leaders serve as judges.

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“This program brings meaning and purpose to academics,” said Teri Jones, a business teacher and SAGE coordinator at Santa Monica High School. “Anyone who wonders why you need math or why communicating in proper English is important, understands why” after working on the SAGE business projects.

Students meet with legislators and local business owners and work with international suppliers as part of their projects.

To meet SAGE’s community service requirement, the Santa Monica students created and ran a Kookies for Katrina fundraiser that garnered $3,000 for the Red Cross.

They demonstrated their civic engagement by researching proposed state legislation to limit unhealthy foods on campus. The students met with the school board, organized debates about student rights and created a business plan to turn a teacher’s lounge into a new lunch spot carrying healthy sandwiches and salads. They promoted the importance of healthy eating with a March for Fitness campaign held in March.

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About 30 students in the small-business classes worked on the various SAGE projects. A team of nine students and two teachers went to New York and then Shanghai for the competitions. Travel expenses were covered by the city of Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and local business people.

The students were Erick Burger, Anthony Campbell, Jasmine Coker, Carlton Fortenberry, Sabrina Marin, Doug Monroy, Malik Moosa, Elizabeth Munoz and Chris Peterson. The teachers were Jones and Anita Kemp.

Awards and acclaim aren’t the only things the students won. For some, the program has opened doors to a future they never imagined.

Monroy, 18, a project leader and spokesman for the team, stumbled upon the elective business class and didn’t take it seriously at first. Monroy said he signed up because he had to: He needed the academic credits it provided to graduate.

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Over the course of the school year, Monroy became deeply involved, even staying after school to make sure his project’s financial statements were correct.

Monroy is now at Pierce College and plans to attend USC next year to major in international business.

“My short-term goal is to get involved with real estate, then mold myself up so I can eventually be the owner of an NBA franchise,” Monroy said. “I’m thinking I want to be a mixture of Donald Trump with a little Magic Johnson thrown in there.”

Monroy, who is now a mentor to the new crop of SAGE-aspiring business students at Santa Monica High School, is the type of student DeBerg wants to target.

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“He has found direction through SAGE,” DeBerg said. “He was a little rough around the edges but he has become much more of a young businessman with a social conscience.”

cyndia.zwahlen@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Back story

Name: Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship

* What it does: Holds an

annual competition in social entrepreneurship for high

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school students

* Countries of operation: U.S., Canada, Brazil, China, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Tajikistan, Ukraine

* Founded: 2002

* Director: California State University Chico business professor Curtis DeBerg

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* Website: www.csuchico.edu/sage

Times research


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