ENTREPRENEURSHIP is not new at McGrath High School. The institution's productive farm bottles McGee's coconut water, a brand which is popular in retail and wholesale outlets in Ewarton and Linstead, St Catherine.
The school boasts a love-affair with entrepreneurship; and, therefore, it is not surprising that some students are following the examples set by of their school, and demonstrating a similar sense of industriousness.
One of six rural high schools under the Centres of Excellence school improvement programme created and managed by The Mutual Building Societies Foundation (MBSF), students at McGrath have been broadening their entrepreneurial skills over the past year, by establishing and operating their own business, a monthly magazine simply called McG's Media Zone.
"We write about school activities, issues and subjects that impact students and the community," relates an enthusiastic McGrath Business Club president, Shantal Thomas. "There are articles that highlight school happenings and performances, and articles about events in the wider community."
Priced at $50, the six-page magazine has a distribution of up to 80 copies, which is supported by advertising funds, generated by community businesses.
The idea to produce a school publication was born after 15 students participated in the first staging of the Young Entrepreneurs "I am the Change" initiative in 2011, one aspect of the Centres of Excellence programme that is managed by The Business Lab and funded by the MBSF and Digicel Foundation.
"We thought about establishing a fruit stand and a newspaper; however, we decided to go with a magazine, because we already had a fruit vendor who visited the school regularly," said Shantal.
"Besides that, we thought that we needed a publication for ourselves, given limited news about us in the TEENage Observer and the Youthlink. And, McG's addresses our issues and showcases our activities."
But it was hard work running a publication, the teenager explained, although the savvy and assertive Business Club team generally manages to meet the needs of its school and community audiences. Following the launch of the magazine by popular entertainer, Mr Vegas last April, McG's has gained strong popularity among students.
"The first issue was very difficult," the sixth former recounted, "We had to stay at school late with our teachers Miss Vanessa Johnson and Miss Sophia Shorter, editing copy and putting the publication together, but we managed to sell all copies in the end. And, after feedback from the students, we added some new material, such as jokes, to make it even more fun," she continued, noting that the launch and features on the popular entertainer dramatically increased sales of second and third issues.
"Although we have increased sales, we are still facing operational challenges," teacher-mentor, Vanessa Johnson, informed, pointing to the cost of ink to print the full-colour magazine. However, she said the team has restructured its advertising rates; and is seeking creative ways to raise funds and also plans to take over operation of the stationery shop, now operated by the school administration, to diversify its income.
Being a part of the Business Club has enhanced the development of team members.
"It has been a great opportunity," says Ackeo Barnes, an active club member, "I do both Principles of Business and Accounts and get the chance to apply my knowledge, therefore, it basically improves my academics," he said.
The aspiring electrical engineer, who recently won an award as part of a team from the school for developing the prototype of a voice-activated fan, is also a member of the school's Young Inventors Club, which also won another award for their creation of the multi-purpose shoe, named the Triple Gear Footwear, developed by a team of girls, which included the Business Club's vice-president, Christina Wright. Ackeo says the entrepreneurial skills learned will be useful for his future as an inventor.
For Vanessa Chambers, who is already running a small, but profitable poultry operation, the skills garnered from the Young Entrepreneurs' "I am the Change" programme has been invaluable. The 14-year-old, who started her operation, about one year ago under the guidance of her mother, says the programme has increased her passion for business.
"At the camp, held at The University Of The West Indies, last July, I found a new urge to do business. I am now trying to increase my stock from 35 chickens; and I want to employ someone to look after the chickens while I am away at school," she revealed. The expansion will allow her to increase her supply to two restaurants in Ewarton and Charlemont, which she has been supplying with products.
The MBSF, operated by Victoria Mutual Building Society and Jamaica National Building Society, has been supportive in building "business awareness" in all the high schools where the Centres of Excellence programme is in place.