Entrepreneurship education should begin as early as kindergarten, said Rachel Foster.
“The younger my students are, the more creative they are, and the less the world has had time to tell them that it’s ‘not possible’ or ‘you can’t do that,’” said Foster, entrepreneurship teacher at Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy. “If we are able to capture the creativity, brilliance and creative thoughts of a 5-year-old, they will hold onto it when they grow up.”
In her third year with the Teach for America program, Foster has developed entrepreneurship curriculum and activities for students K–8, touching the hearts of as many as 500 children per year. She teaches students financial literacy, critical thinking, collaboration and how to solve 21st-century problems, she said.
Equal access to innovative thinking is one of the best ways to disrupt systems of inequality, Foster said. With faith in the power of entrepreneurship and her students, Foster wants to make Lee A. Tolbert the most “innovative elementary and middle school in Kansas City,” she said.
Foster won a $6,000 grant to build a makerspace for her students Monday at Teach for America Kansas City’s Shark Tank: Teacher Edition pitch event at the Gem Theater. The competition featured such “sharks” as Charlie Hustle CEO Chase McAnulty, award-winning author Angela Cervantes, Hot 103 Jamz radio host Julee Jonez and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas Neeli Bendapudi. Five other Teach for America teachers also walked away with funding.
“I am honored and still in shock,” Foster said Tuesday. “I feel as if last night was the show and now I am just invigorated and ready to put in the work and make it happen.”
During her pitch, Foster noted the rise in entrepreneurial educational models being implemented at the schools in Kansas City’s suburbs, including the Blue Valley CAPS program and Park Hill’s LEAD Innovation Studio. These opportunities aren’t available to all students in the metro, she said.
“Darius is an eighth-grader of mine,” she said at the Gem Theater stage Monday. “He is brilliant innovative creative and quite frankly going to be a successful entrepreneur. However, Darius isn’t promised an innovation high school to attend due to his zip code. This has got to change and the change starts here.”
Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy is a majority-minority school with 100 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, she said. Her students deserve the same opportunity as the students at Blue Valley School District. Her school’s new makerspace will help even the playing field, Foster said.
“It’s important for all of our children to have access to these things that disrupt poverty and the institutionalized inequities happening in Kansas City,” she said. “They need access to entrepreneurship to break the mold and to break the systematic issues that students of color are living in.”
The $6,000 grant will go toward tools and supplies for the makerspace, as well as new furniture to inspire creativity and flexibility in students of all ages, she said.
“We can’t continue teaching in silos,” Foster said. “We have to combine content and make it real. The skills that don’t always come in a textbook are often the deciding factor for our students’ success.”
Foster has partnered with the Kansas City Startup Foundation in building her curriculum. She continues to lean on Kansas City’s startup community for support as she moves forward with the project.
The Kansas City startup community has impacted my work more than any other community,” Foster said. “Now, I’m just excited to give my students access to a space that feels like an office that they could be working someday.”