Bearden High program offers business experience

Josh FloryOur Town Youth

Students at Bearden High School have created a video game to promote kindness and friendship, and they’re getting hands-on business experience in the process. The effort is part of the Virtual Enterprises (VE) program, a national competition in which students create, refine and implement a business plan.

The VE Program is the capstone course for Bearden’s business and marketing classes, and participants have to fill out job applications and go through an interview process in order to participate.

Jami Aylor, a business marketing teacher and the VE facilitator at BHS, said the program is reflective of life in the working world and helps students develop accountability and confidence.

“They realize that each of them has an integral piece and each of them has a responsibility, and if you drop the ball it affects the others in the classroom,” Aylor said.

This year, the school’s VE team has developed a video game called Nakama, and built out marketing, accounting, technology and other functions to support its launch.

Lily Nagdeman, a senior who is the company’s chief creative officer, said game participants start in a colorless world and are able to fill in colors by doing acts of kindness.

She said the Virtual Enterprises program encourages students to pursue a venture that has a positive outcome in mind, and that the goal of Nakama was to spread positivity.

“COVID-19 has really impacted us,” Nagdeman said of her classmates. “As a company, every employee here has had some form of negative experience with the pandemic. So, sparking kindness is really one of the best gifts you can give right now.”

Last month, Nagdeman led the team’s submission in the VE branding competition, and Bearden placed in the top 10 percent among 500 firms across the country.

Next week, BHS will participate in a verbal presentation and Q-and-A session featuring judges from the corporate world, one of several steps that will determine their final ranking. While that portion of the competition would normally happen at a trade show-style event, this year’s presentation will be done virtually because of the pandemic.

Constance Paris, a senior who is the company’s CEO, said the biggest challenge has been adjusting to the virtual platform, although she said that because her classmates all have Chromebooks – provided through the district’s 1:1 initiative – it has been easier to distribute the game.

Paris, who is planning to study business in college, said she has learned that leadership is less about telling people what to do than about building an effective team.

“Finance has to work closely with marketing. HR has to work closely with everyone,” Paris said. “And you can’t do that if people don’t know how to talk to each other, don’t know what each department needs … We’ve been working a lot on communication.”

The program also connects students with mentors. Aylor, the program facilitator, said local business leaders providing guidance and feedback include restaurateur Randy Burleson; Kevin Anderson, of Anderson Controls; and Jennifer Reynolds, of Baxter Properties.

Students also get the chance to lead, and to make mistakes. Aylor said she had to learn how to step back and let students take charge, which was both difficult and rewarding.

“That’s kind of my job – to hold them accountable and to support them and to encourage them,” she said. “And sometimes they’re going to fail but it also gives them confidence so they’re not failing in life when they leave here.”

Go here to learn more about the program.

Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes the blog Hall Pass for the KCS website.

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