Program Fills Void in Education

Joseph Baroud

When I look back and remember my high school days, there isn’t much nostalgia and romance involved. The only thing I can recall is complaining about the school’s curriculum all the time, and asking myself why they couldn’t teach me something important I’d use in my everyday life, like how to save and spend my money.

15 years later, this lesson continues to evade me as a 30-year-old man with 20 dollars in the bank and nothing else to claim as my own except an older (but so far reliable) vehicle.

The Young Entrepreneurs in Tech Pilot Program, founded by Walter Larkins, is here to ensure that students don’t leave high school lacking the most important skill they’ll ever have in life. With a little help from supporters like the Rotary Club of Long Beach, the program began in 2018 at Franklin Middle School in Long Beach.

It was intended to teach underprivileged students, who otherwise might not endure these lessons, how to approach and handle what life throws at you from different standpoints that aren’t covered in middle or high school.

“Our programming includes the essential skills that people need to be successful in life,” said Larkins. “While schools are focusing on the academics, we focus more on the other skill set that compliments academics and we take a business approach to an at-risk intervention. So, we connect the things they’re learning in school to the skill sets that you would need to have developed to be either employed, or if you choose to be an entrepreneur.”

The E=O2 Program tackles various subjects that helps prepare students for the future. They’re taught how to behave and have the right attitude. They’re shown how to prepare for interviews, how to speak with potential employers and how to accept fear and rejection so they can deal with the inevitable and move on.

Larkins said  they break it down for the students and explain that each action has a consequence or a reward. He said children think with a tactical mindset, living day by day and worrying about tomorrow when it comes. How can you live for the future when you don’t know if you’re going to survive until tomorrow?

That type of reality doesn’t have to mean the person might not live until tomorrow, or that he might be killed today, though that is definitely a possibility. This reality includes being so poor that you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Sometimes you don’t know how or if you can make it to school because you’re lacking transportation or an adult to take you. When that is your environment it’s difficult saving five dollars every day when that five dollars has to buy your breakfast and lunch, maybe even dinner.

So, to an at-risk child who lives this type of life, financial literacy classes are absolutely necessary, especially if the boy doesn’t have a father to teach him, or has parents, but they don’t have the time because they’re working so hard in order to afford a roof over their head and food in their mouths. They’re as necessary as being the one and only chance they’ll have to transcend this situation and not succumb to their environment.

“At risk are normal students who will have a high propensity of getting involved with gangs,” Larkins said. “Those who will be at risk for dropping out of school. 70 percent of the population that we deal with are in poverty, in terms of either being on Medicaid or meal programs that the school offers. 80 percent are from single-parent households. There are kids that are operating in a very challenging environment. But our definition is kids at risk of making bad choices because of their environment and need guidance and direction.”

Larkins would like for students to evolve from tactical thinking to strategic thinking, where they plan for the future, think about the results their decisions will yield and to begin acting like and portraying the successful individual that they’re learning how to become, beginning with their attitude and the way they socialize.

Larkins feels the best way to teach kids the lessons that they’re attempting to implement is to focus on the way they behave, they way they react to things and they way they make decisions. The students can improve on all of those areas by refining their behavior and the way they decide to do things every day.

“We’ve decided to focus on behavior, Larkins said. “What behaviors can you engage in that can show that you can save and what are you going to do with the money that you’re going to save. There’s plenty of people who make money and then lose all their money because they have a tactical lifestyle, they have tactical thinking. No one taught them about why you’re saving, they didn’t think it was worth it. I might not be alive next week, why am I worried about saving?

“So, we talk about that and how to be able to manage the environment you’re in, with gangs and things you can do to create a space where you can start thinking more strategically. We use incentives. That’s one of those mechanisms [we use] to try and create this strategic thinking philosophy. Because in order to get the incentives, you got to do things and you got to think months ahead to earn those incentives.”

The incentives Larkins is referring to is a laptop, printer, flash drive and backpack. Students can earn these at the end of the year by fulfilling the program’s requirements. Eighty percent of the students selected for this program will be averaging less than a 2.0 GPA. The other 20 percent will be averaging at least a 3.5 GPA.

Larkins said that most of the students with the high GPA are usually academically gifted, but have more of an awkward approach socially. And the students with lower GPAs tend to excel socially, but have issues academically. Larkins plans to have the students with high GPAs tutor the ones with low GPAs. In return, the two groups will form a social bond excelling them in both areas.

“We construct our programs so that in order to qualify for an incentive, which is a laptop, flash drive, backpack and printer,” Larkins said. “Then the 3.5 and above students need to tutor at least 20 hours the 2.0 and below students; the 2.0 and below students need to be tutored by the high GPA students. The low GPA students usually are academically disengaged, but socially high performing and the academically high performing students are generally low performing socially.”

Good news for the students with the low GPA is that they begin the year fresh, so if they can finish the year with a 3.5 GPA, the gifts will be their’s to take home at the end of the year.

Besides working on your behavior, attitude, networking and social skills, the program provides students with valuable lessons you won’t find being taught at any other high school across the country.

Students will be taken in groups of 60 to Big Bear as a program that is modeled after the Rotary Club’s Camp Enterprise. The program will offer students the chance to develop a business plan together over three days. The students are then given a chance to develop their business plans onto three different platforms; 3D printing, video editing and mobile app development. Students will break up into five-member teams and be led by a tech coach who will guide them through the process of doing the aforementioned.

The teachers who will be guiding these children through the most important lessons in their young lives are all professionals of various fields such as CEOs, business and integration senior analysts, vice presidents of business development and other positions. Those will be the business coaches the tech coaches will be 3D printing, video production and mobile app professionals.

Throughout the program, there will be many different contests and chances to win incentives for students. You can look on the website for all the specifics about the program and prizes and everything else that is involved. Visit the E=O2 Foundation online at for more.


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