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Business Management Pathway Develops Students’ Entrepreneurial Savvy
Posted 11/9/22

Spyder Lab students at work

Opening the door to Room A1 on the Back Bay High School campus is like opening the door to a working print shop in the “real world.” The walls are covered with a blue-and-gray fire-retardant vinyl wallpaper emblazoned with gears and other graphics. Professional machines for embroidering, engraving, cutting, sublimation and more line the room, each one below an acrylic sign that announces what it does. Spools of vinyl and thread hang from pegs in a corner; in another corner sits a collection of 3D printers. A dry-erase job-tracking board is half-filled with assignments. Examples of what can be done with the equipment are mounted on the wall above computers loaded with design programs. 

This is the Spyder Lab, the only one of its kind in Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD). Spyder Lab is a work-based school program that prepares students for entrepreneurship and graphic media careers through a student-run business.

The process to bring Spyder Lab to Back Bay began in early 2020, but it wasn’t until funding from a state Career Technical Education Initiative Grant (CTEIG) was in place that everything accelerated. School administrators and teachers met to secure a location on campus, and Career Counseling Coordinator Lisa Snowden began writing a curriculum that utilized the Spyder Lab as the focal point of a Business Management Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway. During the summer of 2022, district staff and the Spyder Lab team transformed Room A1 into an exciting place to learn. 

“It’s such an exciting place with students often asking if they can pop in during breaks, lunch or after school to train on the equipment or work on a project,” said Teacher Jason Kovac. 

Back Bay High School Senior Davian Gonzalez is quickly earning certifications to use the Spyder Lab equipment and studies for more every chance he gets. “This class makes me want to come to school. It’s shown me I don’t have to work a 9-to-5 job, but that I can learn business skills, get a good-paying job, and start my own business someday,” he said.  

Students must learn how each piece of equipment works before they can use it. Then they must show proficiency on paper and on the machine itself to gain certification. The same is true for using the accounting software Quickbooks. There are three tiers to each certification: essential, intermediate and advanced. With each level, the students refine and apply their skills, increasing students’ interest and dedication to the program.

In addition to obtaining certifications, students develop academic skills. For example, math ratios and color theory are applied when designing logos. Creating 3D objects exercises engineering abilities. Spatial skills come to the forefront when cutting a row of stickers for distribution. Before graphic T-shirts can be produced, designs must be proofread. The students’ vocabulary changes as they learn technical terms as well as how to speak professionally.

“The greatest asset for Back Bay students is application learning, and when you offer kids something like this, you get smiles like no other,” said College and Career Education Program Analyst Anne Younglove.  

Students also play a variety of roles to not only refine their communication skills, but also gain confidence. As students take control of the whole process, from sales generation to design to production, they act as general manager, office manager, production manager, sales representative, and creative directors of the business. Everything they do gets added to a digital “employment readiness” portfolio that includes the student’s biography, certifications, highlighted projects and videos of them demonstrating expertise in the equipment. Students can use this portfolio as an interactive resume when seeking employment.

“They’re learning how a business operates from every angle. We’re preparing kids to enter the workforce above entry level. They can bring their experience to a business or to college, and they will be seen as leaders,” Younglove said. 

As part of the partnership with Spyder Lab, one of their Business Mentors, Mike Garcia, is on campus five days a week to work with the students as an on-site expert. “This is truly a student-run enterprise. They are developing leadership, communication, critical thinking and teamwork skills every day,” Garcia said.

“It feels so good to have people supporting me. Spyder Lab has become like a family to me,” said Back Bay senior Lindsey Sanchez. “After I graduate, I want to work for Spyder Lab and help other kids like me. I want to be someone who lifts people up,” she said.

Through their involvement in the Spyder Lab, students in the Back Bay High School Business Management Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway will graduate with the experience to succeed anywhere.