Oh Close Exhibition Day 2019 (39)

From left are school Principal Susan Harrower, Isaiah Gomez, Trevor Jackson, Jorge Aviles, Jose Benitez and teacher Jeff Perine. Photo by Don Chaddock, OPEC.

By Jeff Perine, teacher, Johanna Boss High School
O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility

Youth at the Johanna Boss High School (JBHS) of O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility were awarded the 2019 Emily Chan Most Inspirational Team Award for their participation in a year-long business concepts competition akin to TV’s popular “Shark Tank” show, where entrants pitch business ideas to successful executives and the winning entry can gain an infusion of capital to fund the proposed start-ups.

Launched at JBHS three years ago, the entrepreneurship students participate in a year-long program called Project ECHO (Entrepreneurial Concepts Hands On). Project ECHO is a nonprofit organization that provides students with a dynamic educational opportunity to learn useful vocational skills, entrepreneurship training and experience.

Students work in teams to create a business idea, conduct market research and write a business plan. MBA students from UCLA Anderson School of Management and local business executives serve as mentors to each team.

Oh Close Exhibition Day 2019 (35)The program culminates in the spring with a formal competition at UCLA. Over 500 students attend the competition representing over 50 teams from schools throughout California. The JBHS students video their presentation and submit it to the competition along with a 25-page business plan.

This year, the JBHS team decided to launch the Palm Tree Health Club, a fitness center for people over the age of 50. The idea was for a gym where “seniors can be the star”.

JBHS students felt that with a growing senior population, many were being intimidated and isolated from regular gyms and needed a place of their own. Their gym would focus on wellness and activity instead of who can lift the most weights.

Student Isaiah Gomez served as the Chief Operating Officer for the company and was very excited about the Award. “This has been a long project and although we did not get first place, it was great to hear that our idea and team did so well.”

The competition was held on Sunday, May 5. Principal Susan Harrower and teacher Jeff Perine accompanied the ECHO team during a conference call as the judges watched their presentation and asked follow-up questions of the students. The judges are Los Angeles based executives with extensive business backgrounds.

Teacher Jeff Perine celebrated the team’s excitement. “This group of students really stood up and worked incredibly hard on this project. It is rewarding to see an educational renaissance take place in the students as they take the lead and initiative in their learning.”

“I had no idea that opening a business was something that I could do. I now know the steps that it takes to launch a business,” said student Trevor Jackson, who served as the Chief Technology Officer.

Principal, Susan Harrower, expressed her enthusiasm for the project. “It is great to see so many people come together to help our students participate in this project.” Students saw the collaboration of education, corrections, and treatment staff as they assisted in the videotaping, researching, and the logistics of the competition. “These students are reminded that all those involved in their rehabilitation want to see them be successful.”