George Lucas Educational Foundation

Student Entrepreneurs Change Their Community

In a business academy in Oakland, California, a group of teenagers took the initiative to fight truancy and design a new school. In the process, they won a national student leadership competition. More to this story.
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Student Entrepreneurs Change Their Community (Transcript)

Narrator: This Fremont High School student video shows how some students spend their spare time and money in the turbulent world of car side shows.

Student: I'm probably going to add some stuff.

Narrator: But another group of Fremont students spends their after school hours doing community service and running small business ventures. And this year, their diligence carried them into the finals of a competition for the best high school business program in the country.

Student: It creates a truancy problem on our school campus, because many students venture off campus to buy candy and soda.

Student: Is a dollar-twenty-five good?

Narrator: Like most great ventures, this one began with a simple idea. To make money selling good food from an on-campus lunch cart.

Student: Come buy our ribs, chicken sandwich, they're really good!

Narrator: In one semester, the student-run business sold about 6,000 meals. Generating 20,000 dollars in sales, and reducing post-lunch truancy, which had been running at a staggering 72 percent.

Student: The truancies were high last year, and the absences. We decided that if we can keep as many students in school as possible, they would decrease, plus we'd get business also.

Narrator: These young entrepreneurs are members of the "Students In Free Enterprise," or SIFE team, an after-school offshoot of Fremont's Business Academy. In addition to running the lunch cart, they opened several other businesses, based on an assessment of the needs of the community.

Student: So you currently don't have your W2?

Student: Hm mm.

Narrator: Fifteen students passed a rigorous federal exam, qualifying them to act as licensed tax advisors to their peers and other community members.

Student: At line 36 and 37?

Narrator: The SIFE team also started a tutoring program, and a business card design firm.

Student: Much bigger, ten? Twelve?

Student: Twelve.

Narrator: They also responded to Fremont's request for proposals for new small learning communities, and ended up designing an entirely new curriculum.

Student: Expeditionary learning, authentic assessment, cycle of inquiry, multiple intelligence, and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Nidya: Yes, Youth Empowerment School, it's totally a new idea. It's based on the Five Theories of Instruction. And it's completely project-based, and for students to take their education into their own hands. And our experience with SIFE made us want to go to school, work real hard, do more project-based learning, community service. And so we said, "Why can't everybody learn this way?"

Narrator: In addition to running the businesses, and working on their new school design, the SIFE team entered a statewide competition, where they would make a multi-media presentation of their work to a panel of industry judges.

Nidya: My high school, Nidya.

D'Andre: Wassup? My name is D'Andre Williams.

Narrator: The Fremont team had been a surprise winner in last year's competition. But as tryouts began for this year's presenters, repeating seemed a distant dream.

Veronica: Well, my name's Veronica Garcia, and I'm auditioning to see if I can present at SIFE. Here I go. Our mission is to create a safe place for our community.

Student: Although we value our entrepreneurialship, we also value the community.

Veronica: We also-- although we value entrepreneur, we also value our community. Yeah.

Teacher: But that blurb had an error of parallelism, so I can find it for you.

Student: Parallelism?

Teacher: Yeah, there's faulty parallelism somewhere here. "Establishing, analyze and conduct," it has to be "Establishing, analyzing and conducting," right?

Student: We're always on the go.

Veronica: Okay, see? That's where it comes in.

Student: So that's where I'm going-- we are always on the go.

Veronica: See? That's where it comes in. On the go, yeah.

Student: So I should move this way.

Veronica: Yeah, unless you're-- if you want to do that, you know? [laughs] Don't do it too long, though.

Student: Oh, okay. We're always on the go.

Group: Aaaaah.

Teacher: Think about sending your note. We're going to pick a spot. It's right here.

Jamie: There is the whole other side of what kids learn going through high school.

Jamie: Well, a lot of people learn how to be evasive, how to be invisible, how to like not look like you know the answer. You have to unlearn that to become a performer.

Group: Veronica!

Student: Our needs assessment shows that last year over nine million dollars went unclaimed in Oakland.

Yvonne: This means that out of a hundred tenth graders only three graduate.

Amy: Yvonne, when she first rehearsed, had some issues with language. She's a second language learner.

Yvonne: That the Business Academy had a shocking graduation rate of only 30 percent. This means...

Amy: I taught her English last year, and never once did she contribute to class. When she was audible, she was very quiet and soft-spoken, and she was very shy. So when she stepped up to present, we were delighted that this student was choosing to grow so much.

Yvonne: This chart shows senior graduation rates from...

Jamie: Wait, wait, wait. Which chart? That chart?

Yvonne: Yeah.

Jamie: Vanna White! That beautiful chart that all of your students made with you! It's amazing! Look at where our tax money's going! Right there, okay?

Kevin: It's amazing to see our six presenters get up. Some of them were pretty darn shy. And to see them really blossom, and to get up and they're speaking out, and they're confident and they have amazing presentation skills. Now they're really building on them. So they're doing a great job. The students have taken ownership of it. So they wrote the speeches, and they're editing and constructing and changing their speeches. They're making and building the PowerPoint, so everything they do, they're going to retain. These are real skills that will stay with the students.

Student: We even did the taxes of one of our presenters.

Jamie: Right.

D'Andre: I made thirteen bucks!

Jamie: Nice. Okay. Let's go back.

Student: We even did the taxes of one of our presenters.

D'Andre: I made thirteen bucks!

Student: And because we live in such a diverse community, we even offer our services in Espanola.

Veronica: Our participation in SIFE last year encouraged us to begin our own small school. As we began the long work, we took part in all areas of producing this school, from writing a 35-page RFP, to going to local middle schools, where we made classroom presentations.

Nidya: We practiced, and we rehearsed questions. One, because we're so out of it that we weren't giving it our best at all, because we're just so tired.

Nidya: Aloha! My name is Nidya Baez.

Nidya: But we woke up at 4:45 in the morning.

Woman: Wow.

Veronica: Here are the preliminary results of our qualitative data.

Veronica: It's challenging for us because, you know, we are low-income, you know, people in Oakland. But we needed to look presentable. We didn't want to mismatch or look like clothed in a bit of...

Nidya: You left this one too short now.

D'Andre: I didn't really have no money to get no suit, so Ms. Carpenter she took me to go get a vest and slacks and a shirt, so I could wear it for the presentation.

Nidya: One of the judges called us too preppy, and we were surprised, because it's like we just know how to dress for the occasion. We needed to be dressed professionally for that.

Student: Are you nervous? Are you nervous? Are you nervous? Yeah.

Student: Do the hand motion.

Yvonne: [speaks Spanish] My name is Yvonne.

Tiana: [speaks foreign language] My name is Tiana Seamore.

Nidya: It's a tough world, especially in the business world. It's predominated by white males. And it's tough to be a Latina, and it's tough to be a woman, and it's tough to be from Oakland, and it's really challenging.

Veronica: And I am Veronica Garcia, the Executive Director of Fremont SIFE, and we are here today to show you how we are sparking hope in our world.

Veronica: Me, personally, I wanted to succeed. I want to show everybody I can do better than what they think I could do. And it's like with SIFE we have the opportunity to show them, you know, we're not stupid. We have a lot of drive in us. You know, we could do anything we put our minds to.

Teacher: And the first runner-up, second place goes to Golden West High School.

D'Andre: I was happy. ’Cause I never been a part of anything like this really. So after we won, I was excited.

Narrator: The next day Williams learned that his cousin had been fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting.

D'Andre: Oakland's public image is not exactly wrong. The City's problems have been way over-covered by the media. Every time we turn around...

Narrator: But five weeks later, he traveled with his team to compete for the SIFE National Championship in Kansas City.

D'Andre: Yet, amidst this darkness that surrounds us the fire of hope is growing.

Amy: I think the presentation part of it really helps build their confidence, and makes them so proud of themselves that they don't let these barriers that were in the way before get in their way now. That keeps them safe when they go out into the street, because they know that in their heart that they don't have to appear to be someone else in order to have status in their community. I don't think that's enough to protect them from something like a stray bullet, which is something that happens a lot in Oakland, but it's enough to help them make good choices that could save their lives.

Student: This way students can represent their schools and class instead of representing gangs.

Teacher: Any comments?

Yvonne: I feel great and confident. To me, we're the winners. And whatever happens. And I will always have the confidence.

Judge: The Champion team from the USA is the team from the Fremont Business Academy in Oakland, California.

Narrator: After graduating Veronica Garcia and Nidya Baez began the fall semester at the University of California at Berkeley. And the Youth Empowerment School the SIFE team created welcomed its first freshman class in September of 2003.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis
  • Miwa Yokoyama

Written by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Brian Cardello
  • Ken Ellis
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Kris Welch


  • Ed Bogas

Additional footage courtesy of

  • Justin Downard, CSU-Chico
  • Fremont High SIFE Team
  • Josue Rosas

Special thanks to

  • Curt DeBerg
  • Michael Jackson
  • Kevin McNulty
  • D'Andre Williams

Editor's Note: The student-inspired Youth Empowerment School (YES) opened in 2003. SIFE has changed its name to SAGE.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so impressed with this video and the accomplishments of these students. I know a lot of guidance went into this project. What impressed me the most was the dedication and learning of all those involved. It is a true inspiration to me as a teacher. I hope to take this idea and think creatively in my own teaching environment.

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