Howell has seen a lot of enthusiasm for Seedplay in California and is now officially launching the program nationally. Gaston said he is getting ready to embark on “a national tour reaching over 500 schools in 100 cities starting in late August.”

So far, Horton is the only one to have his project published on the Seedplay web site. “Other students had brilliant projects,” but they aren’t ready to be published yet, Harlan said.

One project Gaston expects will be published shortly, called “tasty cakes,” was proposed by a student who makes cheesecakes. When Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz visited Crenshaw, he was so impressed with her cakes that he agreed to sell them at the local Starbucks. The student now hopes to use Seedplay to raise money for the ingredients and packaging.

Other projects in the works include the “green society” recycling initiative, “make a friend” wrist bands, and “Cougar Awards” (named for Crenshaw’s mascot), an effort to host a movie night as a reward for the academy with the highest attendance rate during testing week.

As these examples show, Seedplay projects don’t have to be about starting a business. They can be a science project, a homework assignment, or a community improvement project. “It’s for any kid with an idea who needs the resources to make it happen,” Gaston said. “And the payoff for them is they build a global fan base around their idea.”

People who visit the site not only can contribute money for students’ projects; they also can offer advice about marketing or other suggestions.

Many projects are already posted on Crenshaw’s private Seedplay network. For a project to be published on the national web site, the student who developed it must take part in an online workshop, conduct research, write a plan, and develop a budget. The project also must be tied to the curriculum and must be approved by the student’s faculty sponsor.

Potential donors can browse the proposals published on the Seedplay web site, which lists the cost of items on the students’ wish lists and the total amount of money needed to complete the project. Donors contribute funds via PayPal, and the Sparrow Fund arranges the item purchases through Amazon, which ships the supplies to the school.

Schools that join Seedplay pay a fee, based on enrollment, which covers a one-year license, the software to create and publish projects, curriculum materials, a teachers manual, on-site professional development, and 24-hour-a-day support.

In citing the benefits of Seedplay, Gaston said it encourages collaboration and teamwork and “encourages students to apply their knowledge to the real world. When youths are charged with writing a proposal to bring in resources, they understand why it is important to learn to write well.”

He said Seedplay offers “an incentive for at-risk students to stay in school, while simultaneously providing an opportunity for gifted students to apply their learning in a way that is challenging and enriching.”

—E.A.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura