A high school teacher from Richmond, Virginia was named this year's winner of the Nasdaq National Teaching Awards. Diane Neylan, an Economics and American Government teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, was chosen from among five regional finalists and awarded $25,000 for her entry "Ready, Set, Succeed." Ms. Neylan's project gave her students the chance to start their own business, publishing a cookbook.
Walk through any bookstore these days and you'll find entire rooms filled with cookbooks: Zone-Perfect Meals In Minutes, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly; Cooking Up A Storm; or Passionate Vegetarian just to name a few. In the fiercely competitive world of "how to" books, publishing a cookbook might be a recipe for disaster. But teacher Diane Neylan thought otherwise.
She put her 11th and 12th grade students to work by having them write to nearly all 50 U.S. governors and two Virginia senators asking for their favorite recipes. When recipes began coming back the students formed a private company, Kougar Enterprises, named after their school's mascot. Ms. Neylan says at that point the students were on their own, armed only with the basic principles of economics and a drive to succeed. "They learned about pricing and they learned about what happens when you run out of stuff and you've got to find more supplies and do you have to pay a different price," she says. "And how are you going to decide how many pages we can afford to Xerox? All those kinds of things. It was a great learning experience for them."
Building a company from the ground floor and then pricing, marketing and budgeting a product may be heady stuff for most teenagers. Not for these savvy Richmond students, who according to Diane Neylan, didn't complain about putting in some extra long hours at the "office." "The fact that there was real money involved impressed them even more. Because they could see we were spending real money. We had a grant from the VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University] Center for Economic Education as start-up money, and their earnings depended on how hard they worked and what choices they made along the way. It's very valuable on-the-job training," she says.
You may not find their new cookbook Kooking With The Kougars at the local bookstore, but Ms. Neylan says a second printing may be in order. Just as soon as they fix the Xerox machine.
The 2003 Nasdaq National Teaching Awards were presented by the Nasdaq Stock Market Educational Foundation and the National Council on Economic Education on April 7 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Regional winners also included high school teachers from Massachusetts, Arkansas, Minnesota and Hawaii.