Eighth Graders Pitch Products and End Up With Jobs

Oct 25, 2017 | All School, Impact, Maverick, Middle School News, News

Closing the gap between school and the real world, eighth graders gain real-life experience after being tapped as having professional potential. When students (left to right) Ella Grace Pickering, Landry Kruep, and Reed Garzon, pitched their products in a Shark Tank environment last year, they would have no idea they were about to be offered a real job with local agrotechnology company, FlowPonics, a privately-held, not for profit company dedicated to enriching the world by strengthening communities through sustainable food growth.
Owner and founder of FlowPonics, Mitchell Wilson, developed the company with a research-based approach to develop soil-less based agricultural methods and determining how to incorporate water conservation aspects of the process. He is actively working to integrate soil into eco-friendly systems while growing and delivering produce for high-end restaurants. He explains, “Ultimately, we would like to be able to use these methods to help feed people who are in food deserts and may not have access to affordable, healthy food. Selling to high-end restaurants has been a way to fund the project. I would like to remain a not for profit entity, with a focus on education.”
Introduced to Mount Vernon by Life Science teacher Larisa Pender-Healey, Wilson served as an External Expert on the judging panel for last year’s grade 7 Shark Tank experience. During the product pitches, Wilson identified students from three separate groups who stood out to him as having a “spark”. He recognized skill sets for exponential potential. He shares, “With my lean start-up, I found it was impossible to stay on top of research and development, much less pay someone to advance my logo/brand and build media content. When I saw that a handful of students had recognizable talent, I realized we could grow the business together. I saw Landry’s web-design capabilities and creative expression. Ella Grace had aptitude for 3D design that was above and beyond anything I would have expected, and Reed has a builder’s mind with a technological knowledge-base.”
With permission from their parents and their teacher, Wilson “hired” the three students for a five-week internship over the summer to help him build his business.
Perspectives on the experience:
Ella Grace: “This has been an amazing, wholesome experience. We got to work with an actual company and experience the real world. I did run into a few challenges along the way – and I was discouraged – but I managed to learn how to get around it. It took some work to get my answers and then it paid off. I learned so much about design applications and how to navigate and overcome problems that we came across. I’m excited to learn more. If I decide to pursue this, I will have a strong base. It really boosted my confidence level a lot.”
Reed: I learned how to work with someone I wasn’t talking to, face-to-face. I was in Birmingham, so I did my conferencing on skype – kind of like a virtual internship. It was a great experience overall to know what real life work is like. You don’t get a grade – you are assessed by how well it works. We went way beyond what I ever thought we could ever do.
Landry: “This experience has shaped who I am. Sure, I’ve learned some really valuable skill sets, but I’ve also built relationships I never thought I would have with adults. When we are working, it’s like I’m one of them. I now know how to get my point across in a clear way, and how to work better, together. In the real world you have to work for what you want and make sure it’s good. My team relied on me to finish the website. You can’t get away with not doing doing something. I got a taste of what would happen when we are older. By working hard and putting in the effort – you get rewarded. I think I’m doing better in school this year, too. I learned how to stay on top of things, such as balancing life – friends, school and activities.”
Mitchell Wilson: “We built a great rapport over the previous semester. Larisa was constantly  always facilitating to make sure everything went smoothly. Because of her involvement as a teacher, we bridged this really cool hurdle for a business to work with such young students. They all had a crash course in communicating with others out of school. We all stumbled at first, but we figured it out. This experience has been ground-breaking. I keep imagining what if I had been given this opportunity the summer before eighth grade. These kids are so much farther ahead than what you would expect.”