Wharton tests lesson plan, teens gain business smarts

During a presentation at the Wharton program, Ramon Guzman-Segura addresses the class. Also on his team are (from left) Cornelius Brown, Jason Zheng, and Brianna Stokes.
During a presentation at the Wharton program, Ramon Guzman-Segura addresses the class. Also on his team are (from left) Cornelius Brown, Jason Zheng, and Brianna Stokes. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 25, 2011

Subprime mortgage loans. Adjustable interest rates. Predatory lending.

Some eyes might glaze over while reading those business terms, but 140 teenage students can now clearly explain the concepts after their sessions at Knowledge@Wharton High School.

KWHS is a new branch of Knowledge@Wharton, an online business journal of the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania. Launched in March, the high school site offers articles, podcasts, and video to help improve business literacy of teenagers.

"Sometimes I don't think students even realize when you're shopping at the mall, there's a great deal of business that's going on here," said Diana Drake, editor of KWHS. "Business is relevant in all aspects of our lives."

This summer, the 140 students from 30 Philadelphia-area schools are testing more than 400 lesson plans that will be available to high school teachers for free on the site in August. The lessons cover nine business topics, including economics, career development, and marketing.

The hope is that KWHS can be a source for any teacher across the globe to implement the tested methods.

Scott Stimpfel, founder of the KWHS summer program, said it was important to get feedback from students.

"We wanted to make sure that the lesson plans we developed weren't developed in a vacuum," he said. "Students are actively speaking with teachers and participating in the discussion. They are actually bringing in their knowledge to the classroom."

Nine doctoral students from Penn's Graduate School of Education each created 30 lesson plans about their subject and an additional 10 each on leadership, using information from the website. Another student who isn't teaching will produce 60 more.

For 14 days, like school, 70 students attend three-hour morning or afternoon sessions - or both. Each class is one hour, and the students rotate to different teachers.

After the class, they fill out a short survey asking if they liked the lesson and what they would change. Then another 14-day session starts with fresh faces, so that the lessons are tested twice.

Stimpfel said the responses had been overwhelmingly positive - a 93 percent approval rating. "Our biggest complaint is that the sessions aren't long enough," he said. "Some student ask for homework. They're very interested in the topic."

Since the program is on Penn's campus, it opens students' eyes to attending college there. Penn is Ramon Guzman-Segura's dream school. The 17-year-old senior from Central High School said he felt like a part of the Penn community.

"I like the fact that the environment is very accepting to all of our ideas and it seems to be more of a family and less of a summer school program," he said. "This has got me thinking, and it's taught me that business and education can go together."

Students can also participate in a business plan competition, where they will pitch their restaurant ideas to industry leaders on Aug. 12. Winning teams will get gift cards to Distrito, Garces Restaurant Group, and Brooks Bros.

Keeping his group's idea confidential, Guzman-Segura said only that it would benefit the Penn community. His team has started market research and conducted surveys.

Inside the classroom, Guzman-Segura learns with seven students from three other high schools. During their personal-finance class Tuesday morning, they watched a video from Knowledge@Wharton that explained how the housing bubble had popped.

Their teacher, third-year doctoral student Mariam Durrani, said the students were fascinated by what was going on in the world.

"We talk about things that are current and get them financially aware of what's going on," she said. "Fact is stranger than fiction."

Contact staff writer Alia Conley at 215-854-2917, aconley@philly.com, or @aliaconley on Twitter.

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