High schoolers start businesses, learning entrepreneurship by doing it

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CARY, Ill. — You won't find a single textbook in Cary-Grove teacher Dave Cook's classroom.

"We want these kids to learn lessons on their own by putting them in a position where they are in charge," Cook said.

Cook is one of just a handful of high school teachers who leads virtual entrepreneurship courses in Illinois, offering a fresh take on old-school business classes.

"I always thought I wanted to be a teacher, and then I ended up taking this class and it changed everything. Now I want to pursue business in college," senior Peter Mau said.

As opposed to textbook accounting and marketing courses, the VEI class has students come up with their own business plan, website, sales and marketing ideas. They even appoint a CEO, COO and Chief Technology Officer.

"I really didn't get the whole business model until now. I feel like I'm part of the business, which is so cool," student Caroline Miller said.

There are less than 10 high schools offering the VEI curriculum in Illinois, but nationwide there are just over 500. The course culminates with the students networking and competing against other kids doing the same thing across the country.

"This year we got to go to New York to present our business to the judges and compete against other schools. It was cool getting all dressed up in suits and feeling like our business idea could really be something," Miller said.

Teacher Dave Cook says dozens of kids who have gone through the course end up wanting to pursue business as a degree afterward.

"We have students who go away saying, 'now I know what it's like to be excited and passionate about something,'" Cook said.

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