Payton Dill, a senior at Orchard Farm High School, had no idea what she wanted to study in college. After hearing about a new program called CAPS, Dill learned about all kinds of different professions – and found a direction for her future.

“The first semester we learned many professional skills from writing a resume to how to professionally present yourself. The second semester we get real internships with real companies. These internships are jump-starting our future careers. Through this program, I have learned so much based on complete hands-on, real-world business experience,” said Dill.

CAPS, also known as the Center for Advanced Professional Studies, is available to students through the St. Charles City and Orchard Farm School Districts. This program throws high school students into hands-on, real-world business experience related to their academic and career interests. The goal is for these students to develop professional skills that employers expect in the workplace.

“This program becomes a win-win partnership as CAPS helps to build a stronger workforce for St. Charles County and provides a pipeline of future talent,” said Cheryl Graber, CAPS instructor.

Each year the CAPS program begins with a two-week professional skills boot camp. Throughout these two weeks, the students are visited by professionals in the areas of resume writing, business speaking, and even handshaking. The student associates were visited by Nancy Imbs from STL Polished, Dr. Gina Cooper from Cooper Management, and others who shared employment skills. Students are taught how employers expect them to conduct themselves in a business environment. Once this skills boot camp is complete, the student associates start their experience bucket list by going on site tours, starting business projects, and meeting more guest speakers.

The inaugural guest speaker for St. Charles CAPS was Zach Hesterberg of SoZesty Social Media Marketing. Hesterberg shared the story of his journey to entrepreneurial success, along with the bumps he experienced along the way. But Hesterberg’s involvement with CAPS has become far more than being a guest speaker.

“I had the opportunity to present to the program about my story as a young entrepreneur, then was able to be a volunteer judge/investor for a pitch competition the program had and helped out a mock interview day,” said Hesterberg.

Hesterberg has become a constant source of mentorship for this group of young entrepreneurs.

“I also love being able to give back and help the students out where possible. I know how important mentorship can be to personal and career growth. I would’ve loved to have had a program like this when I was their age so,

I will happily continue to help them out now,” said Hesterberg.

From the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to The Embassy Suites, local businesses have welcomed the CAPS students with open arms. Students have been able to learn the behind the scenes of how to run all types of businesses. This past fall, the student associates opened the OPO Cafe from the ground up. The students split into groups to tackle different projects for the Cafe, including: marketing, research and development, and health safety. The students did everything from adding the cafe to Google maps to going to the health department to get a copy of the health code. Newco Enterprises generously donated an espresso machine to the program.

Along with the support from Newco, the City of St. Charles has donated lots of time to these up and coming entrepreneurs. The City even organized a meeting to introduce the directors of each office to the students. It was here that student Tyler Barteau met David Leezer, the Director of Economic Development. This meeting peaked Barteau’s interest in economic development, which secured him an internship. Levi Virden, another student associate, has secured two internships within his career field of interest: app development and computer science.

“I have two internships: one is with The SoHo Shop working with the Smart Care group helping create tutorials and also learning about software development,” said Virden. “My other internship is with Stauder Technologies helping the Palaroo app team with the user aspects of the app and with getting event producers on the app.”

These internships are providing hands-on experience in the career field the students plan on pursuing. Not only are the students seeing the benefits of these internships—so are the adults.

“The seniors in this program are coming out with more real-world knowledge and exposure to business than most business majors at four-year universities,” said Hesterberg.

The CAPS program is providing real-world experience which is beneficial to both the student associates and future employers. From safe homes to skin care lines, CAPS students had the opportunity to create their own passion business projects. Some of the projects included creating a new way to rate your realtor, a safe home for victims of sex trafficking, and an all-natural skincare line. At the end of the semester, the students participated in a Shark Tank-like pitch competition for a panel of local judges that included River Collins, Megan McKissen, and Mark Neville. The judges are members of OPO Startups, which provides the incubator space for the CAPS classroom.

While there was no cash prize during their pitch competition, three of the students were finalists for the 2017 SLU teen escalator pitch competition. Hosted by Saint Louis University’s Entrepreneurship Center, the annual event chooses 12 finalists from across the country after they submit a 30-second business idea pitch. This year the competition deviated from the norm and the students had to ride up and down elevators while pitching their businesses to local entrepreneurs. Orchard Farm’s Payton Dill brought home the 2nd place $250 cash prize after pitching her idea—Payton’s Place, a safe home for victims of sex trafficking.

Next year, St. Charles CAPS will extend outside of the Orchard Farm and St. Charles City school districts. The plan is for CAPS to be a county-wide consortium which will also include the Francis Howell, Wentzville, and Fort Zumwalt school districts. Along with adding more schools, CAPS is also adding more strands. Next year, students will be not only be offered Global Business & Entrepreneurship but will also have the opportunity to join the Health Care Academy or Technology Solutions strands.

Forget about traditional classrooms, now is the time to join the movement of 21st-century education.

Check out what the Francis Howell School District CAPS program is leaning in the next issue of StreetScape Magazine.

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