Independent schools getting down to business

Offering wide range of clubs and training for business-inclined students


Many an introductory high school business class includes an assignment where students are instructed to “invest” in the stock market and track their “portfolio” for a specific period of time.

At Crescent School, however, the Grade 9–12 members of the school’s Investment Team use real money — approximately $22,000 — and keep track of their portfolio throughout the school year.

It’s one of four business-related clubs at the North Toronto all-boys school, and a profitable example of the many ways private and independent schools encourage business-inclined students to pursue their favourite subject.

“It’s been a great activity,” says the investment team’s faculty supervisor, economics and accounting teacher Gavin Muranaka. “We’ve been doing it for four years now, and there’s really nothing like it.”

To help the team create a portfolio, Muranaka limits their choices to the TSX 60, some of the largest publicly traded companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The students are then divided into groups, each of them researching a specific industry such as finance, energy, or the industrial sector, before using PowerPoint to present their recommendations, much like a real-life analyst would, to a student executive board.

The entire 40-student team then votes on whether to invest in a company or not, Muranaka says, typically choosing about 15 investments each year.

And while Muranaka doesn’t remember how much capital the team started with, its value has gone up.

“Last year we beat our benchmark by one percent,” he says proudly, the benchmark being a modified version of the yearly gain or loss posted on the TSX 60.

“When you take it from a play environment and give them a real portfolio, it’s amazing how it creates an appreciation for risk in the students,” Muranaka says. “They’re making decisions… ‘I don’t want to do that investment — it’s too risky!’ And that’s not something you would typically hear out of high school students.”

Over at Bishop Strachan School, an all-girls independent school in Forest Hill, the students are taking charge of this year’s extracurricular business activities, with a newly formed 15-student business council organizing multiple initiatives throughout the year.

Grade 12 student Lauren Hutchison proposed starting the council after being heavily involved with the business department last year, but disappointed by the lack of student involvement behind the scenes.

“In addition to administration… they’re getting a chance to think, ‘What do we want to do?’” says teacher and business council advisor Mary Ellen Moran.

So far the council has run a bake sale, begun networking with other schools, including Crescent School, to run events such as a business dinner, and will be organizing a student-led business case competition in November.

They also will be selling custom cellphone cases, the remaining inventory from an eye-catching project last year in which a group of students used Kickstarter to successfully fund CellMate, a series of wood phone cases with custom engravings, and investing the proceeds into their next project.

“We’re trying to create connections with other schools, other businesses, people outside of BSS,” Hutchison says. “We’re trying to network as a school to have more sessions with the world around us.”

At East York’s Montcrest School, which ends in Grade 8, students are introduced to the world of business through the school’s iSTEAM program, which blends lessons in science, math, technology and the arts into one case study-based project inspired by global events.

As the project’s business component — in this case, the “E” stands for entrepreneurship — the school has been running a Dragons’ Den-style competition for grade 8 students, science teacher and iSTEAM program co-developer Dan Bailey says.

Last year students were challenged to create a product that could help solve a water issue in a country they had researched, such as Canada or South Africa.

“They went through the same process a social entrepreneur would: come up with a product that you can use, develop a business plan … figure out who you’re going to partner with,” Bailey says.

Many of the pitches contained an impressive amount of detail, he says: Students have researched organizations that might already be in the country their product is intended for, calculated the approximate costs for building and shipping their projects, and researched whether they could substitute any materials or build in a country with cheaper labour to reduce the price.

“We’ve had kids contact shipping companies asking, ‘How much does it cost to ship a container from Montreal to Johannesburg?’” Bailey says with a chuckle. “Lots of good sports have answered those types of questions.”

Eventually the students presented their findings — and water conservation products — to a team of “dragons” composed of their classmates. The best pitches were then presented to a team of professional “dragons” during an iSTEAM meeting.

“It’s a really good experience for the students,” Bailey says.

“It’s interesting, because I was reading last June in the University of Toronto Magazine that the engineering school is doing something like that too: ‘We need to make sure that our students are connected to the wider world,’” he says. “I feel that’s what we’re trying to do… prepare them for the kind of work that they’re going to do in high school and university.”

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Posted: Oct 28 2015 1:00 pm
Filed in: Education
Edition: Toronto