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How to turn students into entrepreneurs

When her students started their own floral business, they developed career skills and earned industry certification

At Gridley High School in California, we’ve built a self-sustaining floral design program that teaches students valuable career skills and gives them a chance to earn industry certification, which is endorsed by the Benz School of Floral Design and delivered through online curriculum provider iCEV. What’s more, we support the program through a student-run floral business in which program participants are also learning important entrepreneurial skills.

The program began three years ago, when I was hired as an agriculture teacher. Our school is located in a rural area that is heavily dependent on farming, and our administration at the time had a vision for creating a floral design program that would allow students to complete a career pathway in horticulture.

An idea takes root

A key challenge in sustaining such a program is that the materials can be costly. Unlike wood, metal, or other materials, flowers have a very short shelf life. We have to buy new flowers for students to work with every 10 days or so.

We began with a very minimal budget of $3,500 to buy knives, clippers, and some initial supplies. To raise money for the supplies we would need throughout the school year, I borrowed an idea from my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching: I invited students to sell memberships to a monthly floral club.

For $250 per year, club members receive a fresh floral arrangement each month for nine months, which works out to just over $27 per monthly arrangement. For an additional $5 per arrangement, students will deliver the flowers to a local address.

The floral club works out very well for us. Because these arrangements are pre-sold, I can order new flowers and have them on hand as we need them. With about 50 subscribers to the club each year, this gives us $12,000 in our floral account at the beginning of each school year to buy flowers.
To keep the program sustainable, we try to limit the actual cost of the arrangements to around $20, so each month we’re making an extra $7 per arrangement—which we can roll back into more supplies.

(Next page: How students developed career skills as they became entrepreneurs)

Fertile ground

Besides the floral club arrangements, we also design and sell floral arrangements for special events such as weddings, baby showers, and banquets. Our principal has been very supportive. He lets me pull my advanced floral design students out of class on the Friday before a wedding or a special event, and we hammer out those arrangements. On the day of the wedding, we use the school van to deliver them, and we also set them up on site.

With the CTE Pathways grant we received from the state for creating a horticulture pathway, we were able to purchase a refrigerator last year to hold all of our floral arrangements. But we’re growing so fast that we’re looking to buy a second fridge!

We promote our floral design business through social media, by emailing parents and community members, and by having students bring flyers to local businesses. The students are heavily involved in business operations. In addition to advertising, they help with consultations and with ordering flowers. Of course, they assemble and deliver the arrangements as well.

Blossoming entrepreneurs

The impact of running a business extends beyond what students are learning in my floral design classes. They often stay after school or show up before school starts to help out. And they’re not just helping me. They also go into other teachers’ classrooms and say, “I just got done making a floral arrangement. While I’m here, do you need anything?” They are much more engaged in our school community.

We’re using iCEV’s online career and technical education curriculum for the program, which also gives students the ability to become industry certified. About a dozen students demonstrated serious interest in floral design, based on their grades and participation, and earned a certification last year.
Having an industry-backed certification is very motivating. It shows they have worked hard toward their goals, and it gives them the confidence to get a job in the field. Students’ resumes are usually pretty bare, and having that extra credential means a lot to them. It also means a lot to employers. Last summer, eight of my graduating seniors ended up getting a job with a local florist.

A key to our success has been the administrative support. Once our principal and CTE administrator could see that we were making money from these efforts and building a self-sustaining program, it was easier for them to approve what we were doing—but getting to that point requires a great deal of trust at first.

Creating a student-run business has allowed us to support a valuable CTE program that is preparing students for a career they enjoy. It helps them develop important entrepreneurial skills—such as taking initiative, marketing their services, and interacting with customers—that will serve them well in whichever field they choose.

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