How middle school entrepreneurship transforms—students, community, connections


“Pride in their work"kelly-van-meter (2) “Respecting others” “Blossoming”

These are some of the words I heard from Ina Pascal, a teacher at Highland Middle School, about the middle school students in the mxINCedu entrepreneurship program. So, of course, I needed to hear more!

Inna-FinalI sat down (over Zoom) with both Ina Pascal and Rocco Varuolo, the K-12 Instructional Tech Coordinator at White Plains Public Schools. White Plains offers INCubatoredu to high school students and implemented a pathway between middle and high school this year.

Rocco-finalfinalVaruolo spearheaded the expansion initiative. "I loved that there was a middle school version of the phenomenal high school course." He’s seen first-hand the power of entrepreneurship in skill-building, confidence-building, and community connections. Entrepreneurship is where students learn things ‘they’ll never forget.’


A strong start and community connections

In the fall of 2023, almost 200 middle school students participated in mxINCedu under Pascal's guidance. They experienced the mxINCedu entrepreneurship journey from ideation to pitch, using the tools and methodologies of real entrepreneurs to bring their business ideas to life.

white-plains-apprroved-mx3.pngFor White Plains, a community showcase was the culminating event where students presented their products in a marketplace-type environment. “We had six judges. The judges went around, and students pitched to these judges and also pitched to the parents, said Varuolo. “300 parents attended, along with other teachers and instructors from the district, and 50 products were represented. It was a great first showcase!”

Students introduced various innovative product ideas, including TramVac, a vacuum to clean your trampoline, and CATRAT, a cat toy that distributes food to encourage activity. Ina shared, “I was blown away by one of my teams…they created a comic book about mental health called 'Todd the Fisherman.'  They explained that some of their friends deal with bullying and other challenges, and perhaps this could be a solution to their pain. The fact that these students had such empathy for others really made my heart sing. It is gratifying to see the skills of entrepreneurship give students an avenue to help others.”

Getting in touch with interests and strengths

Ina embraced teaching entrepreneurship at the middle school level. “I feel truly lucky to have been chosen to get this program off the ground. With entrepreneurship, you pull everything in. There’s a little bit of science, some research, and social studies. It’s really teaching across the curriculum, and as a CTE teacher, that’s critical.”

As a former teacher myself, I see middle school students as curious,White-plains-mx-approved creative, and willing to face the unknown. However, they sometimes struggle to work effectively in teams, so I asked Ina how she cracked the code and what she saw as outcomes. 

“I created the teams based on interests and self-identified strengths. Each team combined students of different skills and strengths, generally. This way the students could expand and grow while shining in their strength areas. For example, if a student self-identified as organized, that person would be accountable for timekeeping. This course is a great way to ‘practice’ being part of a team. This is CTE-oriented, and good prep for high school.”

This self-awareness around interests and strengths can impact secondary and even post-secondary pathways.

Rocco sees this firsthand… "Kids are exposed to marketing ideas and think, ‘I really want to improve these skills in high school.' Or when they’re really into designing a product or solution, they may go on to explore engineering. This problem-based, project-based learning can take you anywhere you want to go." 

A Toolbelt Approach— Durable Skill Building for Workforce Readiness

White-plains-mx-approved.2Ina provided an excellent analogy for the benefits of entrepreneurship. She shared, “Maybe these kids don’t want to run or own a business, but the skills they learn are like tools on a tool belt. Like a carpenter, you wear a tool belt, and you can use those tools (or skills) as you need them in high school, college, or at home.”

So, what are some of the tools that students can add to their toolbelt and nurture through entrepreneurship? Ina and Rocco described a few:

Collaboration: “Teamwork is a core component of these programs. In2020-2-13 Collier Schools-mx teams, they learn how to be respectful of one another, and you know what they say, ‘the chain is only as good as the links!' The kids learn this: you can ask for help, but you need to carry your own weight, just like in the real world.”

Resilience: “Students also learn that making mistakes is normal, and this applies to other core courses like math, social studies or English. You must check your work, and if you make a mistake, move on and find a better solution.”

LISD-mxINC-2022-3-squareConfidence: “Above all, they have PRIDE in what they create. They say, ‘Hey, I want to try something this way, or ‘this exists, but I can make it better, I have a better solution.’ When they’re presenting at the showcase, they’re gesturing with their hands, and their faces, and through that, they are saying, ‘see my work, and I’m proud of it!’"

In mxINCedu, we see all kinds of product and service ideas from students. Whether the idea is a hit or a miss, these kids learn transferable, workforce-ready skills.

All Students Shine 

English Language Learners

We like to think of entrepreneurship as leveling the playing field. This is an environment where all students can thrive. In Ina’s school, there is a large community of students who are learning English as a second language, and it was essential for Ina to find ways to offer these students the same entrepreneurial experiences as her native English speakers. Ina shared, “Webanner2 live in a multicultural world, and especially in New York, where there are so many nationalities and languages, it’s important to find ways to communicate.“ Ina described how she and her students use technology to support communication in the classroom among students to break down language barriers. “Kids work with the tools, they just figure it out, they don’t shut down. It’s a place where my Spanish-speaking students can have the same experiences as native English-speaking. And now, after this class, in the hallway, even if the kids aren’t best friends, there’s a wave, a smile, and that’s about inclusion, respect, and acknowledgment, and we all need that.”

Students with Learning Differences

Ina shared a story about a student who struggled with writing. While the student sometimes faced challenges with class assignments, she worked through them, and “when it came to presenting her product and putting it together, she excelled. Her product was a 2-in-1—a combo product of toothbrush and toothpaste, so when you travel, you are all set. Her presentation was phenomenal, her verbal skills were excellent, and she just blossomed.” 


Student agency in action!

We know that mxINCedu is a place where students of varying backgrounds and abilities can really shine. Is it because they feel empowered to solve a problem that means something to them personally? Is it because they have a choice and voice in the design of their solution and their business? Is it because they have an authentic co-working experience with their peers? It could be any or all of these things. We love to see their progress and student agency in action!


Beyond the mxINCedu Classroom

Ina and Rocco eagerly shared the impact that student entrepreneurship has had on their community and their students. Ina shared that other teachers “notice differences” in students after completion of the course, and Rocco and Ina both noted the buzz surrounding the young entrepreneurs among parents and community members. Most importantly, “the kids are excited,” and they know that “the sky is the limit, and they [can] do anything they would like to do.”

We can’t wait to see what’s next for White Plains!

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