HANDS-ON LEARNING courses like the Regional Occupational Program’s marketing class at one Antioch high school are creating and inspiring some of society’s future CEOs and business owners.

Deer Valley High School students are getting an opportunity to learn how to start a business and market it; design skills; and how to apply all of these skills to life as they manage the school’s student store, also known as “The Den.”

The class is the only school in Contra Costa County with this type of business course, part of one of the state’s 74 Regional Occupational Centers and Programs — or ROCP — that offers “career and workforce preparation for high school students and adults, preparation for advanced training and the upgrading of existing skills.”

The Business Technology Academy at the Deer Valley campus provides students with a diverse mix of courses to follow all four years. The marketing arm of it began in 2011 and was created by Steve Kish — the first marketing teacher at the high school. He also came up with the concept of using the marketing class as a hands-on learning opportunity by running the student store. 

Tatiana Sims is a junior at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, and a member of Contra Costa Youth Journalism. (Courtesy CCYJ)

“As a young person, you know we have these aspirations and dreams, and it’s not until we get into the real world and we actually have hands-on training that we realize that yes, this is the path I want to go on, or this field isn’t right for me,” said Joshua Hannah, a marketing program teacher. “So being able to do that as a junior and senior in high school is going to give them that forced thought earlier to know whether this is where they actually want to pursue in life.

“While taking this class the kids start to realize that all of these skills taught don’t just work in business, but ... in life also. If we don’t fail or if we don’t struggle, we’re never going to get better at something,” Hannah added.

“The Den” is a place where students and even staff can come and purchase items on campus at their convenience. Students in the class are given a role such as cashier or security and sell items from phone chargers and school supplies, to stuffed animals and bracelets and more. All earnings from the store go toward scholarships for three individuals who have been selected for their participation in the program.

Team made class happen

Alongside Kish is Kristofor Freeman, who has worked at Deer Valley for 19 years and been the lead for the business department for the past eight years, helping to make the hands-on marketing class possible.

“We wanted a hands-on activity … something that was very business-like that the kids could actually do and the concept of running a store just screams business,” Freeman said. “One of the things we do in business like running the store or even going out and making sales is you have to be able to talk to strangers. In the real world, we call it small talk, right? Being able to walk up to someone, shake their hand, make eye contact, have a pleasant conversation that also has some meaning and purpose to it. And it’s a skill that is quickly becoming lost, particularly amongst the younger generation.”

When it comes to the design side of marketing, students learn to make posters, work specialized printers and print on clothing in the program’s print shop.

“What they’re learning in here is helping them figure out how to do that kind of stuff as far as price, promotion and planning,” Hannah said. “We have a lot of students who move on to the business field after graduation.”

As Freeman explained, “When students are given the opportunities to apply the skills learned from classes like this one, it can give them a sense of motivation to work towards a new goal in life that they never saw achievable before. 

“Students who have no idea what they plan on doing after graduation can join a class where they learn real skills like in this one to really get a sense of how the real world works,” he added.

“Being able to walk up to someone, shake their hand, make eye contact, have a pleasant conversation that also has some meaning and purpose to it ... it’s a skill that is quickly becoming lost, particularly amongst the younger generation.”

Kristofor Freeman, Deer Valley High business teacher

Deer Valley alum Marielle Manzon was a part of the business academy before she graduated in 2021. She is currently pursuing a business degree at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

“I’ve always had an interest in business and I thought taking business academy classes would help me explore my interest and figure out what I wanted to major in when I went to college,” Manzon said, adding they did help. “I had some knowledge about business going into college from the classes I took in high school and I was already familiar with some of the course materials in my classes.”

“One of the things I like most about this academy is I’m not looking for the most academic,” Freeman said. “That’s great, you’re smart, you’re intelligent, you’re going to be successful. You’re taking classes, you’re going to college, but to me, it’s that kid who’s kind of floating somewhere near the middle or the bottom. You know … who just doesn’t see a path for him or herself. Who kind of suddenly realizes by doing something in marketing that ‘I can be successful … I do have a reason to go to school and to sharpen my skills.’” 

Tatiana Sims is an 11th grader at Deer Valley High School in Antioch. (Sims is enrolled in the marketing class.) This story originally appeared in CCSpin.