Project manager Lilly Simmons had a big day at work on Wednesday.
Using a tablet, sitting around a table with her colleagues, she unveiled a new website design for her client, Rosalinda Verde, executive director of the Visalia Opera Company, and pitched marketing strategies to help grow her business.
“We put your logo and your name at the top so that people associate that with you immediately,” Simmons said, pointing to a big computer screen. “We can change anything you want if you don’t like it.”
Simmons is 16. And “work” is a typical day of class at the Phillip J. Patiño School of Entrepreneurship.
At the high school, which opened in August, students who are on internships do free work for local business leaders in exchange for experience, with goals of developing their own business plans by the time they graduate.
“When I first learned about the program, I was picturing adults because of the way that they were speaking and emailing. So when I saw their young faces, I thought, ‘wow,’ ” Verde said. “This type of work elevates them and pushes them to that level of professionalism. I can see how it’s going to set them up for a great future.”
The biggest thing is that we trust the students. We give them opportunities to work on their own and be responsible for themselves.
Patiño teacher Michael Padilla
As part of their midyear review on Wednesday, students met with local companies such as Rezcom, Boxy Brands, Fresno Fit and the Fresno Fire Squad to provide web development and offer ways to grow their audiences. The companies are clients of Shift3 Technologies, a Bitwise Industries company that employs the students as interns.
“At other schools it’s like you get a worksheet … take a test, get your diploma. Here, it’s teaching us how we’re going to be in the real world – how to be around people,” Simmons said. “Some of us are interested in the business aspect, and some of us are more interested in the coding and the technology. But we’re all getting real life experiences.”
The unique school aims to promote individual students’ creativity, weaving basic subjects into real-world lessons that develop leadership skills and can help make a student’s business plan a reality. Principal Brett Taylor said it’s a win-win for the community.
“Our students are getting a head start by earning valuable career experience through these internships. Not only are the students excited, but so are the local businesses,” he said.
Teacher Michael Padilla said it’s the relaxed school culture that really drives the curriculum, but the independence that’s encouraged wasn’t easy for students to grasp.
“It was really difficult at first to get the students to buy into how we would like to do things here,” he said. “The biggest thing is that we trust the students. We give them opportunities to work on their own and be responsible for themselves. At a normal high school, that would never happen. Here, we see how it goes and if it doesn’t work, we change it. It’s free flowing.”