Kapaa High’s ‘Shark Tank’

KAPAA — Nine years ago, Kapaa High School had a program called Virtual Enterprises that provided real life experience for its students by allowing them to create a business. But Virtual Enterprises wasn’t doing enough for the students who participated in it, according to twelfth-grade teacher Christine Farina.

“We were the only school in Hawaii that did (Virtual Enterprises) for a number of years, so we had no one to compete with or do trade fairs with like they do on the Mainland,” Farina said. “So three years ago, I thought, ‘Well, what happens to all the businesses that aren’t selected?’”

It didn’t take long for Farina to find inspiration: She formed a class based off one her favorite television programs, “Shark Tank.”

“I thought that we’d try having all the businesses that they’re interested in developing, to actually develop them,” Farina said. “And as a ‘Shark Tank’ lover, I thought, ‘Why don’t we compete?’ So we gave ourselves the opportunity to compete with ourselves.”

Kapaa High’s “Shark Tank” class is spearheaded by self-directed learning with Farina serving as a guide for her students.

“The students are very creative and learn to be very self-sufficient and self-motivated,” Farina said. “They’re self-paced and I’m just basically a guide to the side. I set deadlines for them, give them guidelines as to what they need to do, but the work is up to them. I’ll do some editing on the business plan, but it’s all their work.”

The class is split into six different teams with six different products. Aukai Kessler, a senior, has an innovative idea for paddlers and canoers to train and practice more efficiently.

“Our product is a paddle cover that fits over an ordinary paddle to give it extra weight as a training tool to help increase their strength and endurance so that it’ll make you feel lighter when you’re paddling,” Kessler said.

Innovation and creativity is encouraged in the classroom, which has opened Kessler’s eyes and his mind to think in ways that he never has before.

“(This class) is pretty different. I’ve never been in anything like this before. It’s fun. We’re always working,” Kessler said. “We’re working on the business. Whether it’s financials, figuring out just basic things and what we’re gonna do in a couple years. We use a lot of math here so it’s very helpful. It helps prepare you if you go on to take higher level courses.”

There are five other business ventures in the class, ranging anywhere from a monthly subscription business that provides the community with 100 percent organic products, to a food truck that receives donations from hospitals, buffets and local farmers in order to create plate lunches and meals at a reduced rate for those who can’t afford to pay full price for food.

Each student has their own laptop to create spreadsheets and business plans while communicating with other members of their team. This type of project- based learning has allowed each student to take accountability for their learning.

“We don’t really have Ms. Farina teaching us stuff on the board, we’re really just self-directed workers,” said Jayna Balajadia. “We have to pace ourselves each day and we don’t really have her tell us what to do because we have to do it ourselves.”

Simulating the television show in a classroom setting has made each student grow up a little, said Farina. Many of the students took the course in order to learn how to create and manage their own business.

“The reason why I took this class is because I wanted to start my own business,” said Sha’nisha Lanoza. “I’m very into cosmetology and I’ve always wanted to have like my own salon. So this class is different from other classes because it’s teaching me how to start a business and how to create a business.”

While not every student may find themselves eager to further explore entrepreneurship as they continue on to college next fall, like Lanoza is, some of the lessons they’ve learned during their time in the Shark Tank class will help as they transition into adulthood.

“I’ve learned a lot about financials and insurance. I’ve learned a lot in this class,” said Starr Rain. “You get to create a whole business. You have so much creativity and power that you get to create anything that you want.”

The class will be hosting a Shark Tank New Business Competition Thursday at the Courtyard Marriott “Paddle Room.” For more information, contact Farina at farina@kapaahs.h12.us.

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