Benjamin Russell, a senior at Lakeville North High School, is one of those rare students who knows exactly what he wants to be when he grows up.
“Basically, my whole high school career is summed up in business,” Russell said. “People know I’m really involved in it and take it seriously.”
Russell is the ideal candidate for the Advanced Business Academy (ABA) at Lakeville North, one of two new business academies the school offers for students in grades 10-12 who are interested in business careers.
Already a senior, he’s excited to be enrolled in ABA, he said.
The academies were created because so many students indicated on tests and inventories that they wanted to pursue a career in business after high school, said Marne Berkvam, principal at Lakeville North.
“When they came to me with the skeleton shell of the idea, we looked at the data and we said, it only makes sense,” Berkvam said. “That’s how we kind of knew it would be successful.”
About 115 students are enrolled in ABA, the academy aimed at students who are passionate about business and are ready for high-level coursework, including Advanced Placement (AP) courses and others that earn them college credit. Many also participate in DECA, an association for students interested in business and marketing.
The other track is the Career-Oriented Business Readiness Academy (COBRA), which targets students who want to explore business in a hands-on way. Some of the 60 COBRA students work part-time and earn credit as part of an on-the-job training class. COBRA has quarter-long classes, so students can explore many subjects without committing to a whole semester, said Berkvam.
The idea behind both academies is to expose students to the business world in high school so they’re better prepared for college or work later, said Berkvam. “To me, it’s really about career exploration,” she said.
“The two academies look very different as far as what we can do within the curriculum, but then overall we have the same set of goals,” said Cindy Nolan, one of the academies’ two teachers.
In the program, students take one business course per semester. But the concept is not simply offering business electives, said Nolan. “What we’re doing differently is we’re doing a sequential program, so that allows us to develop skills over a three-year period,” said Nolan.
For instance, juniors in both academies take economics courses, Nolan said. Students are part of a cohort that takes classes together for three years. With just two teachers, “We’re really able to get to know students,” Nolan said.
Coursework focuses on a broad spectrum of business-related topics, from computer applications to marketing, accounting and advertising. They also get to hear speakers, go on field trips and attend conferences. As seniors, they will have internship and mentorship opportunities.
Another goal is to build a professional network, said Nolan, “so when they graduate from high school they have this database essentially of all these people … and they can call on them for college or career advice,” Nolan said.
Students must apply to be in either academy freshman year. So far, Lakeville North has been able to accommodate almost all interested students, said Nolan.
To make space for the academies, a new cluster of rooms was configured, including an existing computer lab, two classrooms and a presentation space. The program uses existing curriculum and teachers, so it costs the same as offering business electives used to.
Nolan said that the excitement created by the academies is palpable. While working in her classroom this summer, several parents and community members dropped off business cards and asked how they could help.
“I can tell you that I’ve had the most fun out of my entire career,” Nolan said. “It’s really, really messy, but that’s what makes it exciting and very energetic … every day.”
Berkvam said while academies are on the rise throughout the state and nation — Lakeville South just started a STEM Academy — she doesn’t know of another program like this in the south metro.
Russell, who one day wants to pursue an MBA, said he can’t wait to receive a mentor later this year. “I think I’m fortunate to be being taught these elements of business in high school. Normally, people are taught these in college,” he said. “So now when you look at it in that process, I’m one step up.”