Skills and Smiles—Entrepreneurship for Elementary

“When somebody pushes you down, you just have to keep getting up. Do not let people tell you can’t do it. Prove them wrong, believe in yourself.”

~ Maddie, 5th grader, Waller Mill Elementary

WM-fresh-students.2Each week, students in Mr. Roger Searles’s class at Waller Mill Elementary School, York County School Division, submit their own quotes as part of their entrepreneurship lessons with Roger and “Mr. C,” otherwise known as Charlie Williams, mentor extraordinaire for freshINCedu. Maddie’s words demonstrate that the entrepreneurial experience that students have through freshINCedu teaches them so much more than how to create a business model, how to make a budget, and how to bring an idea to life and sell it—it teaches them lifelong, transferable skills like resilience, which will serve them in middle school, high school, and beyond.

Shared commitment to supporting student growth

Let’s back up a little and meet this dynamic duo. Before becoming a teacher, Roger joined the United States Air Force, where he served as a security specialist. Following his military career, Roger got his bachelor’s degree and teaching certification. He has taught elementary school for the past 25 years and has been at Waller Mills Elementary School in Williamsburg, Virginia, since 2007. Mr. C spent 40 years in sales and marketing in the corporate world. He is spending his “retirement” investing in students by mentoring and sharing his real-world perspective. These two are the perfect combination of expertise in education and business, each bringing years of learning and experience in their fields to the classroom. Roger shared what a gift it is that Mr. C can “infuse his background knowledge, his expertise - into the [freshINCedu] curriculum easily, share it with the kids, and connect with them.”  Mr. C shared his amazement that “the things that they are learning in freshINCedu are things that I learned in college and the corporate world.” 

Mr C and Roger waller mills-2

Wait, what? 

WM-fresh-students.5Yes, that’s right. Even our youngest learners in the Uncharted Learning world, starting with freshINCedu, can count on having an authentic entrepreneurial experience in which they do the real work of an entrepreneur: identify problems and opportunities, collaborate with a team to develop a solution, and build a business based on customer needs. York County Schools prioritizes this skill-building pathway, starting early with freshINCedu, then continuing with mxINCedu in middle school, and then kick-starts students for life and their post-secondary pathway with INCubatoredu in high school. Jennifer Romanelli, Coordinator of Career Development at York County, shared that this pathway is a valuable part of the student experience because “this curriculum really does incorporate all of [the] characteristics of a future-ready graduate,” as stated in the district strategic plan.

"This curriculum really does incorporate all of [the] characteristics of a future-ready graduate."

~ Jennifer Romanelli, Coordinator of Career Development, York County School Division

Authentic Learning and the 5 C’s

According to Jennifer, this program and the whole range of Uncharted Learning student entrepreneurship programs are “the definition of authentic learning.” Virginia’s graduate profile is probably very similar to a graduate profile in YOUR state—their goal is to produce and nurture students who exemplify the 5 C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Creative Thinking, and Citizenship. The freshINCedu curriculum “covers every single one of them” in a project-based manner that engages students, teachers, and the community.

WM-fresh-studentsBy bringing in mentors like Mr. C, teachers like Roger are showing their young students that building a network of supporters matters, and opening their eyes to career possibilities in their futures. By sharing his real-life experiences from decades in the business world, Mr. C has not only empowered the kids to "think as entrepreneurs but has expanded [their learning] beyond the actual program to attach it to real life," according to Roger. 

At the heart of entrepreneurship: Social Skill Development

By the 5th grade, most students have learned about collaboration, conflict management, communicating with others, and more. They’ve practiced it in classroom lessons with role play scenarios. They’ve watched videos and talked about it. They know the drill. But they still sometimes have difficulty applying these lessons and skills to real-world situations whether it’s on the playground or in the classroom.

How is freshINCedu different?

Building a business as an entrepreneur not only gives them a real-world situation in which to hone these skills, but it also gives them the MOTIVATION to WANT to use these skills because their business and their ideas matter to them and they want to be successful. 


WM-fresh-students.3Roger noted that after the learning disruptions caused by the pandemic, “students struggled with working as a team, collaboration, [and] patience with each other.” As they have worked through the process of bringing their ideas to life as a real business, they have learned to compromise, to work together and more, to the point that they are ready to pitch as a team to a panel of judges. Mr. C also shared his perspective on teamwork with freshINCedu students, noting that “a wonderful thing to see is that when you stand back and watch them, there's a synergy where one will ask the question and the others will be quiet while the response is being given—the whole teamwork thing has really gelled with them.” The growth in the teams’ ability to collaborate is deservedly a source of pride for Roger and Mr. C.



Because the entrepreneurship experience authentically touches on all aspects of communication, including writing, reading, speaking, vocabulary building, research, and listening, Roger can dedicate time during language arts to teach the entrepreneurship curriculum. Not only that, but he notes that these skills transfer to other courses that he teaches as well. He sees students in reading teams asking each other questions, coming to consensus about projects, and listening to one another. He sees students justifying their reasoning with supportive facts, a skill required not only in entrepreneurship but also in science, math, and social studies.

Critical Thinking

In freshINCedu, students have to dig deep to truly understand the problems they identify from a customer perspective. We call one of the activities to support this the 5 Whys. Mr. C calls it root cause analysis. He was amazed that not only are 5th graders able to do this, but they can distill down what they learn from the 5 Whys, prioritize their learning from a customer perspective, and decide on a solution to build a prototype.


Skills like innovation and creative thinking are in high demand from employers, so it is incumbent upon us in education to give students opportunities to think outside the box, to create new things, and try out new ideas. This work is inherent to the entrepreneurial process. Consider one of Roger’s teams, the Word Police. This team selected an important problem: students using inappropriate language. Their solution is an anonymous tool for students to report offensive or foul language, thus encouraging more respectful language at their school. 

Another team, the Crease Savers, developed an insert to help preserve the look of tennis shoes by preventing creases. By allowing students the autonomy to identify problems that matter to them and to create unique and innovative solutions, we can help them practice and nurture their creativity.


Community Connection + Impact

The potential community impact of freshINCedu has the potential to be two-fold. 

First, by involving the community as volunteer mentors, we create strong community partnerships. Experts from the community share their experiences with students, often referencing businesses or products that the students are familiar with, and sharing real stories so that they can see that “somebody has done what they’re studying about.” Volunteers often become ‘superfans’ as they see the good work happening in our schools. Mr. C shared that he is “amazed at the program” and the opportunity to “build strong children.”

In our experience, it’s not just the students that benefit, but our mentors, whether they are retired entrepreneurs or INCubatoredu/ACCELerator students just getting started in their careers, also learn and grow from investing in our young learners.

WM-fresh-students.4Secondly, this experience impacts communities because students are empowered with the knowledge that they can find opportunities to improve life in their communities and make a difference, even at a young age. Roger talked a bit about this...While the kids often come in thinking they will make a million dollars as entrepreneurs, over the year they shift to a focus on helping others. One of his groups, The Artists, developed custom-made coloring books designed to help others appreciate art and enhance their drawing skills. Another group, the Mystic Mathematics, created games to help students master math standards. Bottom line: “They’ve stopped talking about money. Now they are talking about serving others.”

“They’ve stopped talking about money [through entrepreneurship]. Now they are talking about serving others.”

~ Roger Searles, Teacher, Waller Mill

Future Ready

To be ready for a future that we can only imagine, students need the kinds of entrepreneurial skills that they are building in Roger’s class at Waller Mill Elementary in York County Schools. Collaboration. Critical thinking. Creative problem solving. Communication. Resilience. 

But don’t take it from me, take it from another student in Roger’s class:

“There’s never a time you can’t do something. Keep on keeping on! Never back down, never give up, keep going.” 

~ Gaby, 5th grader, Waller Mill

That’s definitely an attitude and a confidence that we can agree is important for all kids. Entrepreneurship engages students and teachers in the work of building all of these skills that will benefit whatever path they take. Mr. C said it best (as he is known to do!):

“Stick with it because what you learn in here is going to benefit you later on whether you are an entrepreneur or not.”

~Mr. C, FreshINCedu Mentor, Waller Mill

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