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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

Making Grade In Business

It’s not every day that the chief executive at a large Wall Street investment bank makes time to meet with high school students. But that’s just what happened to a group from Sun Valley’s Village Christian School. During a summer visit to New York, the students in the entrepreneurialism and global leadership concentration program spent time meeting with executives from top companies such as Vimeo and Hearst Corp. The topper came when the group met with Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Tom Konjoyan, head of Village Christian, said that Blankfein’s advice to pursue their passions fit in well with the concept of the school’s concentrations program. “We were told he would give us 15 minutes and he ended up giving us almost a half-hour,” Konjoyan said. Konjoyan started the concentrations program after arriving at the school six years ago. He modeled it after a similar program at his alma mater, Harvard University. Students take assessment tests their freshman year to determine where their strengths and interests are and then pick from one of six concentrations to pursue during their sophomore through senior years: health and environment; ministry and social justice; science, technology, engineering and math; visual fine arts and media entertainment; performing fine arts and media entertainment; or entrepreneurialism and global leadership. Konjoyan started the concentrations for a number of reasons, including the marketing strength of having something that differentiates Village Christian from other private high schools. But his foremost desire is to give the students an opportunity to narrow down or rule out areas for future studies. “They will be ready to have a leg up on the competition in terms of finding a career that interests them,” he said. Starting up Village Christian, which enrolls students in kindergarten through 12th grade, has a total student body of 1,100. Annual tuition is $12,000. About 30 high school students are signed up for the entrepreneurialism and global leadership program, which is about how many went through it last year. In addition to the senior field trip, the business concentration includes classroom activities, a startup weekend for juniors, a team business-pitch competition, a luncheon for women in business and an individual senior project. The startup weekend is an overnight event in which students form teams and come up with ideas for a business or product. The ideas are presented to a panel of judges in a competition called the Big Pitch. Ken Hayes, a partner at Santa Monica venture capital firm Canyon Creek Capital and board director of Pasadena Angels, was invited last year to speak to the students about what investors look for in entrepreneurs and startups. Hayes called the program ground-breaking. “It was the first time I was aware of a high school that attempted to take kids through the whole process of getting an inspiration all the way to putting together a business plan and a pitch,” he said. Students can then refine their ideas from the Big Pitch for their senior project. Some come up with an idea to solve a problem in their own lives, such as a group of international students who designed a high-end travel pillow for use on long flights that was temperature controlled and had inputs for portable music players. “You could tell they had done a few transpacific flights and had been miserable and thought up some things to improve (the experience),” said Ray Endacott, assistant head of school and provost of the concentrations program. John Khouri, dean of the entrepreneurial program and a social studies teacher, said the senior project becomes the first opportunity for many students to marry a specific passion of theirs with business. For instance, one student launched a nutrition blog targeting parents of autistic children and another undertook a competitive analysis of credit card travel reward programs, which he actually presented to the company where he worked as an intern. Khouri said he was blown away when the latter student presented his project. “I knew he had the ability, but to see it come together like that was gratifying,” he said. The field trip experience, which the school refers to as a Business Plunge, allow students to network with business professionals through company visits and dinners. During off hours, students take part in cultural activities. In New York, for instance, the group went to a Yankees game and visited Times Square, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Faculty and staff leverage their relationships to set up meetings with business executives. Konjoyan’s roommate from Harvard, for instance, is a partner at Goldman Sachs, while Khouri had contacts at Vimeo he knew from his time at Yahoo Inc.’s music division. “It is a pretty packed week with relevant visits and local opportunities to see things they might not otherwise see,” Khouri said. This summer, students will head to Seattle with plans to visit Starbucks Corp., Boeing Co., Nordstrom Inc., Microsoft Corp. and the University of Washington. Download the 2016 VALLEY’S PRIVATE HIGH SCHOOLS list (pdf)

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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