Spotlight: Persistence Prep Students are Connecting with Community, Building Practical Skills

Students in the YES program on the factory floor.

Persistence Preparatory Academy Charter School, serving grades K-5 in the Buffalo City School District, is connecting classroom learning with practical real-world skills through its annual business plan competition. Persistence Prep’s Joelle Formato, Founder and Head of School, and JoAnna Wingo, Founding Dean of Culture, joined us to talk about the competition, the school’s rigorous college preparatory program, and how other charter leaders can replicate their success.

Tell me about Persistence Prep Academy Charter School. What’s your elevator speech for why parents and caregivers should choose your school for their child?

Persistence Prep Academy is a nurturing environment where we guide our students to reach their full potential. We provide a unique balance of challenging academics and personal growth, continually fine-tuning our approach to meet each student’s needs. Parents can rest assured that their child is gaining an excellent education and being groomed to thrive in life and make meaningful contributions to society. As a result, the school is adaptable to local and regional community issues. It shifts to prepare its scholars better and uses data to drive necessary changes to meet a scholar’s academic, social, and emotional needs.

Persistence prides itself on among other things, its rigorous college preparatory program. Can you talk about the key elements in place to prepare students for future success?

At Persistence Prep, we are more than just a school – we are a nurturing family. Our commitment to molding our students into the best versions of themselves is evident in everything we do. We pride ourselves on fostering an environment that balances rigorous academics with personal development, ensuring our students excel in their work and mature into well-rounded individuals. With our constant evaluation and adaptable approach, we identify and rectify what doesn’t work to provide a tailor-made education for each child. As part of our family, parents can feel excited and secure, knowing their child is on a promising path to achieving great things. Our college preparatory program is founded on three cornerstones: academic excellence, personal development, and practical application. We stimulate our students with a robust curriculum that fosters critical thinking and problem-solving skills. We also prioritize personal growth, motivating students to cultivate resilience, self-discipline, and leadership skills. Finally, we ensure students can apply knowledge through initiatives like the annual business plan competition with the Young Entrepreneurship Showcase (YES) Program.

What inspired you to launch the annual business plan competition?

Student showing off his certificate for the annual business program.Driven by the goal to connect classroom learning with practical experiences, our students understand the exhilaration and challenges of entrepreneurship, leading to the inception of the annual business plan competition. The program was also driven by the desire of a local firm to give back in a more meaningful and tangible way to the young people in our community. The initiative aims to nurture our students’ creativity, innovation, and business acumen. We collaborate with professionals across diverse fields who volunteer their time and knowledge to mentor our students. The collaboration fosters strong mentoring relationships and exposes our scholars to careers and pathways they may have yet to consider.

Our scholars first start out with a team of mentors from 19IDEAS, a local strategic marketing firm.  They work with our students each Spring, with two sessions each month.  The program culminates in students travelling to their office to pitch their business plans.  Students who complete that program then matriculate into the YES program. The YES program was designed by one of our PPA parents who is a licensed accountant and wants to promote financial literacy, economic security, and civic engagement among young people.  The mentors in this program meet with our scholars weekly for four months.  The culmination of each cohort is a trip to the factory to see their t-shirt designs come to life, and the opportunity to sell those shirts to our community with profits supporting their future educational endeavors.

What skills do students learn in the YES program that show up in the classroom?

Our YES program equips students with essential life skills to supplement their academic learning. They learn to strategize, work in teams, take calculated risks, and foster creativity and resilience, all of which benefit the classroom and beyond. The culmination of this program – a viable business plan – signifies the successful integration of their classroom learning and entrepreneurial skills. Participants in the initiative learn financial literacy and critical thinking creativity, critical thinking/problem-solving techniques, and strengthen their writing and reading comprehension. The participants also incorporate the following in the classroom: citizenship through an emphasis on communication, collaboration, positive peer interactions, accountability, integrity, and persistence.

And the student ideas are self- generated?

Yes, all business ideas are student generated and then refined through conversations with their mentors.  Both the 19IDEAS Business Plan Competition and the YES program provide opportunities for students to write marketing plans, explore their target audiences, and develop an elevator pitch.  This has been a great opportunity for students to practice their persuasive writing skills!

It also seems to be a great opportunity for students to make an impact on the community.

Many of our students’ innovative ideas are geared towards resolving local issues, thus impacting our community. The team at 19IDEAS really works with our students to ensure they develop business plans that include some component of social responsibility.  Examples of this include a café that has one day to provide free meals to the homeless, a basketball training camp geared for students from low-income neighborhoods and a hair salon that goes into schools once a quarter to provide makeovers to students in need.

Moreover, by nurturing future leaders and entrepreneurs through these programs, we’re setting the stage for continued positive societal contributions. We have seen student confidence really blossom through participation in these two programs, with a deepening understanding of the impact they can have on their community, even at a young age.

What has been the response from students? Why are they so excited to take part in this program?

The feedback has been truly encouraging. Our students embrace the hands-on experience and the opportunity to bring their creative ideas to fruition. Learning from industry professionals and competing with their peers adds to the thrill. Scholars proudly show off their logo designs, discuss their company mission statements, and don the school core value t-shirts they have designed and produced through YES.

What would you suggest for school leaders at other charter schools considering replicating a similar program?

We’d say, don’t hesitate! Programs like YES are essential in shaping well-rounded individuals. We suggest customizing the program according to their student’s interests and needs, engaging with local businesses for practical insights, and ensuring the program reinforces the existing curriculum.