One Montana, a Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation supported nonprofit organization based in Bozeman, MT has eight Montana schools participating in their Rural-Urban Exchange Program this year: Great Falls & White Sulphur Springs, Bozeman & Harlowton, Billings Skyview & Forsyth and Billings West & St. Labre. The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation believes that educating youth about the varied challenges in different parts of the state is key to the success of Montana.
“As a Superintendent and educator, I have lived and worked in rural Montana and know the challenges that members of these communities face. Finding employment, health care and transportation and maintaining schools, businesses and family farms are a daily challenge. A dialogue that explores ways to enhance the well-being of all Montana’s people is a great starting point” says Kirk Miller, Executive Director of School Administrators of Montana. This exchange program between high school students and local entrepreneurs develops entrepreneurial spirit and skills, innovative ideas for economic development, and new understanding of rural and urban communities with exciting results.
The first pair to complete the 2014-2015 Exchange were Great Falls and White Sulphur Springs. In early March, 2015 the Great Falls students presented their project in Great Falls, then they traveled to support the White Sulphur Springs student presentation the following week. Last year, this same partnership generated creative school business plans and both schools have continued to build on those plans this year in impressive ways.
White Sulphur Springs students are continuing work to create a school business called “Hornet Vinyl.” Their goal is to raise $5,000 by June to allow them to purchase equipment to get the business started along with a class to support it. The students have worked on several grant requests and are currently about half way there. In addition to providing hands on learning around business, marketing, graphic design and management, the project is also designed as a graduation incentive. Students who work there bank their earnings and must graduate to withdraw them.
Great Falls students from Paris Gibson Education Center took their original hydroponic idea (originally called the “Paris Produce Project” – now a full blown program called “Grow, Eat, Live” ) – and expanded it into aquaponics and created a product made from their locally grown peppers. Developed, grown and designed by the students their pepper shake is called “Loki’s Ghost.” You can see the spoof-y, hilarious commercial they made for Loki’s Ghost” here.
Great Falls teacher, Jonathan Logan, said of the project – “After our presentation and the trip to White Sulphur Springs, our kids are fired up for the next phase. We will be planting and harvesting on a commercial scale throughout the summer so our pepper supply will support large scale sales next fall.”
Many more projects are being developed at the other participating schools. Additional presentation events will be held in April and May in the remaining six communities.
Mike Halligan, Executive Director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation believes that “this unique project focused around the delivery of real world business development skills for high school students through mentorship is great for our state. One Montana plays a positive role in encouraging the next generation to be entrepreneurial. We especially appreciate their commitment to bridging the Urban – Rural divide.”