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Meet Debbie Johnson

Debbie Johnson teaches Youth Entrepreneurs at The Independent School in Wichita, Kan. In addition to working with students in the upper and middle grades, she helps with graphic design, internships, junior and senior projects, and serves as a mentor. Debbie is a passionate advocate for YE and she shared with us how the curriculum has impacted her students. “The YE curriculum is so outstanding. It has been tested and fine-tuned. The team that leads the effort is always looking at ‘is this the best way? Is this resonating?’ That leads to more immediate rewards in the end.”

Meet Debbie.

Her YE connection: 
Prior to becoming a teacher, Debbie enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur. With her background in graphic design, she started an advertising agency and worked with organizations like NASA. She eventually sold her share in her agency and had a successful career doing marketing for the casino industry. She has a real passion for taking chances and putting herself out there and trying something new and unfamiliar. She stresses that entrepreneurship is something she loves so she found YE to be “a perfect connection.”

What she loves most about YE: 
“Education today is the same education my sweet granny had when she attended school. I think the world has changed all around us and education has been so slow to catch up.” For Debbie, the forward-thinking approach that YE offers to students is second to none. As an educator, and a parent, she values the real world experience that students gain through the program and she continued to stress how necessary that experience is for students as they consider their future career paths. In addition, Debbie shared how valuable the program is to potential employers. “I think it is so important, not just for the kids who I am invested in, but just the way we do business. YE has so many tentacles with how we get people ready for real life and real careers.”

How the Foundational Values drive her as a YE educator:
Debbie feels strongly that many of the Foundational Values are the same principles that have guided her throughout her life and she believes each of them are critical to success. “I think that every business person in the country needs to invest in some way in Youth Entrepreneurs, whether it's in their time or their talent or fiduciary. If we want to continue to have a well trained, productive society, we need to have entrepreneurs in it, we need to have young people who put these values into their life.” 

Most memorable mindset shift: 
For Debbie, it’s all about the students whose lives she sees transforming right before her eyes. When a former student landed himself in some legal trouble, Debbie approached him and suggested they work together on his business competition. At first, he resisted, but she recognized that he had so much to offer. “The biggest impact for me was that I had a student a few years ago, he was headed down the wrong path, some teachers couldn’t even have him in class. But he was in YE. He had a really bad attitude, but he was able to figure out that he had talents that bring value to the society as a whole... and he won a lot of money at the business competition. His parents have thanked me, but I didn’t do it. It was the power of YE. He found out he had value and talent and he is doing great. I love seeing him so happy.” 

Day in the life in her YE classroom:
Debbie tells us that each day is different. She strives to create an atmosphere where students can test their ideas in real time. She sees tremendous value in getting real-world, hands-on experience. She recently had two students who wanted to go into food marketing, so she organized two separate activities using brownies and tacos to help her students, and their classmates, understand why market research is important. “We do a lot of YE activities; we try to shove a lot into 45 minutes. Every day is different and fun. I am not a ‘we gotta have this curriculum, we gotta follow the syllabus’ type of teacher. We are always looking for opportunities to try something outside the box. I say ‘opportunity’ a zillion times a day and I stress Foundational Values in all of my classes. These are just things we should all try to embody every day.” 

YE equips students to overcome obstacles. A great obstacle she overcame: 
“I’ve gone head first. I was usually the only woman in the room so I had to work longer, harder and smarter.” In addition, she tells us that she finds so much joy in the obstacles her students overcome as well. “I had a student last year, raised by a single mom with four or five siblings. She worked really hard to get him into this school. The first year he talked to no one. He was so quiet. Something with YE gave him so much confidence. He now gives speeches and he asks for help when he needs it. That is the magic of YE.”  

If her students remember just one lesson from YE, it’s this: 
It’s no secret that Market Day is a favorite aspect among students and alumni alike. This culminating event of the students’ year-long efforts, puts everything they have learned into practice and provides students with the opportunity to run their very own small business for a day. Debbie tells us that the excitement surrounding Market Day is not only fun for the students, but she considers it to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the program for her as well. “The kids love Market Day. They love watching their idea turn into a reward. We all want to feel appreciated in our daily lives. For kids to have such a tangible reward in their hands, that’s huge for them. You did something adults do and you did it well, and that gives kids so much confidence. I love that and I hope that sticks with them.”