Vilonia High School business students have the opportunity to graduate with hands-on, work experience.

Located inside the high school, students have recently assumed management of the Eagle Nest, the school’s athletic store. The store is serving a major role in business curriculum under a three-member teaching team. Business teacher Mauldin serves as the lead teacher, assisted by Lana Lawrence and Penny Kirby. 

"These students will have a leg up with some potential employers—with us teaching them this way rather than all of their instruction coming from a book," Lawrence said. She was on duty Friday afternoon interacting with the 10 or so seniors, including Krystal Garrett, Kara Martin, Rebecca Kirby, Caleb Judd, Hunter Scroggins, Paige Davis, Ryan Clingan, Aaron Little and Amber Stockton, as they worked.

Students clocked in and out, logged and stocked the inventory in the store. They waited on customers, groomed mannequins, manned the cash register, operated a heat-press machine apply lettering and logos on T-shirts. As well, they had been designing logos and working on a marketing plan for turning over some of the store’s "stale" merchandise. A couple of students were turning out a special order project of two T-shirts placed by a smaller school district.   

The store is open a portion of most afternoons and during home sporting events. 

Both students and school district staff stopped by to check out sale items. One staff member said she had purchased several Valentine’s presents the day before at bargain prices. Another teacher was purchasing T-shirts, bearing the Eagle logo, for her children at a cost of $5 each. She remarked on "the deal" she had made. 

"Our goal is not to make money but to teach," Lawrence explained, regarding the store operation. "We aren’t in competition with anyone in the community. The business people are professionals, we are just here to learn."

On that note, Lawrence said, the school has partnered with local businesses allowing students to have additional opportunities. Beginning in the fall, some students will be able to participate in apprenticeship programs. And, during the past month, a couple of businesses partners, Lawrence said, have been at the school assisting with some of the store training.     

"We need a good working relationship with the community for this to work like we want," Lawrence also said. 

She shared a comment, she said, that has stuck in her mind and one that she would like to see corrected. A business owner told her recently that students were applying for jobs at his establishment and some could not make change or interact properly with customers. 

"With this, they can feel comfortable going into a potential employer and saying I have some training. I have some real life experience and they really will," Lawrence added.  

Students, already holding down jobs, shared some ways how the school in-store experience has already helped them. 

"I have been working at Kroger for two and a half years," Clingan said. "I have gone in and everything I deal with is just there every day. This lets me see what goes on behind the scenes in areas where I don’t work and when I’m not there."

Mauldin anticipates having about 30 students, next fall, in each class including Enterprise 1, Enterprise 2 and Small Business Operations, involved. In the future, the school plans to expand the marketing to an online purchasing operation.