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NMSU Extension providing assistance with Zuni High School senior portfolio projects

ZUNI, N.M. -- The last semester of public education for the Zuni High School seniors is a time to step into the reality of the world of business and finance.

With the assistance of New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, each of the 70 students are demonstrating the culmination of their education by creating business plans for enterprises they would like to open in their pueblo.

"This is an outstanding program and opportunity for young people," said Hayes Lewis, Zuni Public Schools' superintendent of the program that has been taught for two years. "It showcases their skills, knowledge and talents particularly as it relates to the community."

Besides fulfilling state requirements to create a portfolio that demonstrates what the student has learned, the school administration hopes a seed will be planted that could develop into helping the community's economics.

"We are doing this so the students can become problem solvers, which is what employers want when they hire people these days," said Mike Hyatt, Zuni High School principal. "There is a big need in the Zuni community for economic development and there are services that need to be provided here that are not available. Hopefully the students will develop some ideas and desire, and maybe they will think of ways to make Zuni better."

While starting a business may be a long-range dream, the information the students learn while making the plan is applicable to their personal life.

Taylor Yatsayte, a 2013 Zuni High graduate, developed a business plan for a bowling alley. During the process of making the portfolio, he learned about budgeting money - which is something he is using right now.

"While figuring out how much money I would need for my business, I learned budgeting money is something you have to do in your daily life," Yatsayte said. "You have to know how much money you need to buy groceries, clothes and gas, and pay your rent and utilities. Now I'm spending my money more wisely on things that I need, not just getting things that I want."

All New Mexico seniors are required to produce a portfolio of work that demonstrates their command of critical thinking skills and subject matter knowledge learned during four years of high school education.

In the past, the Zuni students sought to meet the portfolio requirement by submitting a scrapbook-like collection of their completed classwork. However, the school board and school administration felt this was not an effective way to demonstrate their ability to use the skills and knowledge they had gained.

To better showcase what they've learned, the school administrators decided the students would participate in an entrepreneurship and business development class, which culminates in a complete plan for a small business in the Zuni Pueblo.

The school administrators turned to Michael Patrick, NMSU's Extension economic development specialist, to help create the curriculum and to help deliver the classes to the students during the spring semester of their senior year.

During five four-day visits to the high school, Patrick joins Zuni teachers Mike Pettit and Carlotta Martza in teaching the curriculum to the students.

"Developing a business plan for a new business start-up is an exercise in critical thinking and subject matter application," said Patrick. "The students are drawing on what they have learned in psychology, sociology, economics, history, language arts, math, finance, accounting, and in the various disciplines of science."

To develop their business plans, the students must employ a broad spectrum of skills, beginning with evaluating consumer preferences, values and motivations. They apply their knowledge of materials and processes involved in making their products or delivering services. Students must also set their own prices, calculate costs and make financial forecasts, all while preparing for managerial duties like supervising and motivating employees and managing inventory and money.

During his class lessons, Patrick teaches what it means to be an entrepreneur; the cost of doing business and the economics of one unit of sale; and the importance of market research, financial statements, cash flow and balance sheets. These lessons culminate with teaching about the purpose of a business plan and its parts.

"In April each plan is judged by a panel consisting of a student, a teacher and a community member," said William Becker, Zuni High science teacher who's involved in the program. "It's a big day for the students, because their presentation is made before the panel, their classmates, community members and their family. They have to explain about their business, its start-up cost and projected profit."

And after the presentation, the school administrators hope the seed of entrepreneur has been planted into the students' memory and will sprout in the future.

"I've used this curriculum with other youth programs and have seen many forms of success, including students opening businesses," Patrick said.

Whether the students open a business in the future or not, they learn many things that are applicable to their personal life and career.