Venture Academy

  • 112 students
  • $2 million annual budget (including one-time startup costs; recurrent budget is about $12 thousand per year)
  • Seven full-time teachers, two full-time special education teachers, three full-time special education paraprofessionals, an instructional leader, director, operations manager, family liaison/receptionist

Most of the students enrolled in Venture Academy, a Minneapolis charter school for grades six through 12, struggled in previous schools. Discipline problems. Emotional problems. Falling behind classmates by an average of three years. The traditional school setting wasn’t working for them—but perhaps a corporate environment would. That’s the bet Jon Bacal made when he started Venture in August.

“It’s early days,” he says of the school’s progress to date. “Kids are still struggling with reading, writing and speaking, but they are creating their hearts out, making art, music, websites and products.”

And at Venture, creation is king. On the premises are four sewing machines, a wood shop and a MakerBot 3-D printer. It’s school as maker space, with a creative, indie vibe.

Scott Davis, who runs a Minneapolis social gaming company called QONQR, sits on Venture’s board. He views the entrepreneurial skills that students are learning at Venture as essential to their future employment, and his future talent pool.

“The education system today simply tells students what they need to do. It’s not asking students to answer the ‘why,’ ” he says. “That’s what they will need in a workplace. At Venture, students are taught to work like an adult.”

Part of this involves giving presentations to management, or in this case school administrators. Eleven-year-old Diego Perez was part of a team pitch to obtain funding for website hosting. (Watch the presentation here.)

“We wanted to sell the things we make,” Diego says. “It was a great idea, and the pitch was fun. I like learning about profit.”

Bacal is fond of saying that Venture wants to find the next Bill Gates. That may not happen. But what is happening is students are walking through gates that had been closed to them before, and learning is taking place.

 

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