By Brian Whitehead
Redlands Daily Facts, Calif.
Inside the building Kmart once used to sell clothes, electronics and toys to Inland Empire shoppers, a new charter school is teaching teenagers the finer points of business.
Vacant for more than 15 years, the roughly 150,000-square-foot facility on Highland Avenue now resembles the corporate headquarters of a Fortune 500 company. Between the modern furniture, spacious common areas and integrated technology, creative young minds have their mecca.
“Be a boss!” Entrepreneur High urges.
Chartered through San Bernardino City Unified, Entrepreneur High is one of four Southern California schools operated and managed by REAL Journey Academies, a nonprofit that also runs New Vision Middle School for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
New Vision and Entrepreneur share the same location; both opening in their new digs this month.
“I don’t think you’ll find anything around the Inland Empire like this,” said Alex Lucero, REAL Journey founder.
Entrepreneur High’s executive director, or principal, Ray Culberson, had a busy summer canvassing Highland and San Bernardino, pitching parents on a school near a Big Lots! and a Food 4 Less that hadn’t yet been completed.
“I’m Ray Culberson,” he’d say, “and I want your kid to be a boss.”
Without a finished campus, the longtime San Bernardino City Unified youth services director instead sold REAL Journey’s vision, its promise to provide soon-to-be ninth-graders a tuition-free school tailored for their entrepreneurial spirits.
Culberson made himself omnipresent, handing out business cards in department stores and setting up banners around town.
A couple hundred parents bought in. School started Aug. 6.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Culberson said. “Parents giving us their most prized possession just on a card.”
Built for about $22 million, Entrepreneur High opened with just ninth-graders.
At full capacity, four years from now, the charter school expects to have 800 students from freshmen to seniors.
While conventional high schools offer math, science and history, Entrepreneur High offers financial algebra, media marketing and business innovation. Teachers — many of whom are in their first or second year of teaching — oversee no more than 30 students a class.
The school’s daily schedule carves out blocks of time, or E-time, for students to collaborate on assignments and meet with faculty.
Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Entrepreneur teens are developing real-world skills.
New Jersey-based Hertz Furniture has stocked classrooms with adaptable and movable seating intended to boost collaboration and creativity. Common areas and the cafeteria have brightly-colored furnishings to emulate a college-like environment. All rooms require key cards to open for additional security.
A vast quad with a lengthy skylight overhead offers students cocoon pods to study solo and a mezzanine to join forces.
“The furniture sets the tone. It’s the atmosphere,” said Gabriel Schwartz, Hertz Furniture vice president of sales for California. “We want students to feel they’re in a special place where they can learn, collaborate and have productive time.”
Entrepreneur High is 95 percent done, Lucero said.
Still to be completed is a room modeled after the popular television show “Shark Tank” and a room that will serve as a pop-up store for teens who want to sell something they’ve made.
Entrepreneur students this week created more than a dozen clubs: video gaming, music, volleyball, LGBT, Grupo de Espanol, to name a few. The student body will decide on a mascot shortly.
Rosalyn Reyes taught at Etiwanda and Alta Loma high schools before coming to Entrepreneur.
As a financial algebra teacher, she said she’s imploring students to see life through an entrepreneurial lens.
“We want students to understand they’re changing themselves,” Culberson said. “They’re becoming professionals, and professionals speak differently, talk differently, act differently. We always want kids to know what they’re learning and why.
“Every day, we’re establishing that culture.”