A hum of activity from the third-floor classroom at Robert E. Lee High School isn’t just from the bank of computers whirring away.
The school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club, six-time regional champion, two-time state champ, has been gearing up for another round of competitions, which will begin in the spring.
The students obtain practice in real-world skills like public speaking, creating business models, interviewing, parliamentary procedure and budgeting, through FBLA.
"You’d be surprised what these kids can do," said Carol Wilt, business teacher at Lee, and the sponsor of FBLA, a co-curricular association of students training for careers in business and finance. With a national annual membership of more than 200,000 high-school students, FBLA is a popular choice for students with an eye toward a career in business or a related field.
"My mom is an accountant, and I just thought it was really cool to get involved in things that had to do with [that]," said Lavendar Phan, a junior and a member of Lee’s FBLA club.
The Lee FBLA students are currently in the middle of a pair of projects. One is part of the FBLA national Partnership with Business competition. For that project, the students are working with Non-Traditional Media LLC to help build a business model for a school hat fund-raiser. Students will offer feedback to the company on the fund-raiser and will explore nontraditional media forms as a possible means of marketing its products.
ALSO, LEE students are working with Project ASK, a nonprofit, Virginia-based organization that helps children and teenagers with cancer, to coordinate a holiday drive for donations. For the sixth year, Lee is the point of contact for all Northern Virginia region schools, and club members have designed a packet of information for schools to use, as well as serving as a drop-off site for all schools.
Project ASK is a service project, as well as a project for competition, and Lee is focusing on soliciting donations for teenagers with cancer, in particular.
"A lot of times, teenagers are overlooked when it comes to all the donations that come in," said Wilt.
Over the summer, Lee’s FBLA chapter — which includes over 250 students, Grades 9-12 — took home first prize at the National Leadership Conference in Denver, Colo., in the American Enterprise Project competition, the first time the school has ever won that competition.
"It was really exciting. It was the first time any school in Virginia has ever won the national award for that competition, so it was a big deal," said senior Adeel Khan, who attended the national competition.
To win the American Enterprise Project, Lee FBLA members had to first undertake a massive, school-wide project involving some aspect of the American enterprise system of business. Once the project was completed, they had to prepare the project for competition, which began in February with the Northern Virginia regional competition, followed by the state competition in April. For both these competitions, Lee students had to write a 30-page report on their project, explaining in detail what their project involved.
Through a collaboration with Lee’s ESOL Transitional High School, more than 100 FBLA members taught four different classes of students age 14 to adult at night at the school, on the basics of business, finance and technology.
"The kids wanted to give new Americans the chance at the American dream, and they thought it they got involved in business, they’d have a better opportunity, in this area," said Wilt.
Beginning in October 2003, students created 22 multimedia presentations using PowerPoint. They created the presentations with one question in mind — "What do they have to know to even get started?" according to Wilt. Those presentations were then translated into eight different languages in order to accommodate the diversity of their class.
"It was really heart-warming," said Khan. "The people were very friendly, very accepting of the information."
Wilt said the students ran into a roadblock when they discovered that the translations of their presentation provided by some online translation programs weren’t as precise as they would have liked. So, the students went about translating the program by hand, scanning their work into the computer and incorporating the translations into their presentations.
"They wanted to preserve the purity of the language," she said.
Being able to be the teacher for a change suited some students well.
"I got to see how delighted she was at learning all these things," said Phan, who served as a translator and teacher for a Vietnamese woman. "It was weird trying to get the message across, and trying to help her learn, because I’m usually the one doing the learning."
At the end of the project, each participant received a CD with all the presentations on it, in both English and his native language.
THE NATIONAL competition ran from July 14-17, meaning once school finished in June, those 10 members of FBLA who were going to nationals had some hard work on their hands.
"When summer started, we stayed for two weeks, six or seven hours a day, Monday through Friday," said Khan.
Three students — Noe Barrera, Priya Malik and Anh Nguyen — made the two-minute presentation at nationals, while several more worked on the 30-page report.
Wilt said her students are refining the project for competition this year and will be focusing more on technology this time around. Regional competition doesn't take place until February, but she said it’s a year-round endeavor.
"Competition season usually runs from the close of states the previous year through the deadline for this year’s states," she said. "This is the time when everything starts happening and they start implementing their plans."
Students involved in FBLA at Lee get more than just the chance to coordinate projects close to home.
Students travel to regional and state competitions, and others, like Khan, get the chance to travel to other parts of the country. At last year’s state conference, he ran for, and was elected as, the state secretary/treasurer. Last weekend, he traveled to New Orleans for a national conference.
"It’s allowed me to visit places, and it’s a good leadership position," said Khan, who hopes to attend either Harvard or Virginia Tech’s business school to eventually achieve his dream of working as a chief financial officer for a major corporation.
Being in FBLA may help achieve the dream.
"I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet. Whenever what we can do can have a positive impact on them, and they can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that’s out there, that’s what makes it worthwhile," said Wilt.