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Building a Bridge Between Students and Business Leaders
Twenty-six students sign up for Flathead High School's new IB business management course
Kalispell potter Tim Carlburg, right, talks with Flathead High School student Sierra Maxwell during an IB Business Management open house at the school. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
During a recent early-morning networking event held in her classroom, Flathead High School teacher Jesse Rumsey told a group of community business leaders that the students sitting next to them were some of the school’s finest pupils.

The students wore nice clothes, with many of the boys sporting button-down shirts and ties. They listened attentively. As participants in the school’s new International Baccalaureate (IB) business and management course, taught by Rumsey, the teenagers looked every bit the young professionals they are asked to be for the class.

They wanted to make a good impression on the first day of what Rumsey hopes is a fruitful partnership between her 26 ambitious students and 26 local business leaders.

“The IB is a very rigorous college preparatory program,” Rumsey told the assembled business leaders. “A lot of our students are taking it to get ahead. These are some of the most motivated students we have in the school.”

The International Baccalaureate academic program was founded in 1968 to help students “develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world,” according to its website. There are currently 3,290 schools in 141 countries offering IB courses to 970,000 students.

Flathead is the only Montana high school with an IB program, which is in its seventh year at the school. Flathead IB coordinator Kelli Higgins said Missoula Hellgate is currently working on establishing the state’s second.

Last year, about 250 juniors and seniors took at least one IB class at Flathead, Higgins said, with 86 taking at least one exam. This year more than 100 are registered to take an exam, which Higgins said is the most ever.

The most common college preparatory program offered in Montana is Advanced Placement (AP). According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction, 54 high schools, plus a handful of middle schools, offer AP statewide. Altogether, there are 18,340 schools offering AP to 1,973,545 students, according to College Board statistics.

The business and management course is the most recent addition to Flathead’s IB curriculum. Now in its first year, the syllabus consists of five units: business organization and environment; human resources; accounts and finance; marketing; and operations management. As with other IB classes, a final exam is held in May.

As one of the course’s primary components, students are asked to write a report demonstrating real-world business management skills based on their experiences with selected businesses from the community. Many of the students have chosen to work with the businesses of family or friends, but some reached out to people they had never met.

“For some of these students this is a huge leap out of their comfort zone to meet with these business owners,” Rumsey said.

The Oct. 18 networking event at Rumsey’s classroom was an opportunity for the students to converse with the business leaders they are paired with and for the business leaders to better understand the program.

The students are asked to pinpoint a specific challenge or problem facing the business: “What is an issue that is keeping you up at night?” They analyze the issue and then ultimately write a 1,500-word report that details a possible solution or recommendation.

The list of businesses slated to participate is wide-ranging: cell phone repair, pottery, a florist, a bike store, a bed and breakfast, a high-tech company, a coffee shop and more.

“What’s exciting is the students get to leave the walls of the building and reach out to people in the community,” Higgins said. “It forms a nice, natural connection between the community and these students.”
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