A group of high school students in Applied Business and Finance engaged in a powerful and purposeful service learning experience in the first semester of 2021/22.
Partnering with local social entrepreneurs from Loop Swim, students interviewed the business owners and identified marketing challenges. Putting their classroom learning to work, they created marketing plans for Loop Swim and presented them to owners Heather Kaye and Itee Soni (featured in the photo above) at a December gathering.
"I was so impressed with what the students accomplished," said Loop Swim founder Heather Kaye, a graduate of Harvard University and the Parsons School of Design. "The students put together some powerful ideas for us and we are excited to implement the best ideas into our business plan."
Applied Business and Finance teacher Steven Sgourdos has created three challenges that surface throughout the course that involve marketing, entrepreneurship and investment/finance. In October, the students dove into the marketing challenge and launched a partnership with Loop Swim.
"I was excited to connect with Heather. The premise of her business is inspiring, as it has a environmental foundation and a social enterprise perspective. She cares about the kinds of sustainable business practices that I want the students to learn about and consider," says Mr. Sgourdos.
The students met with Heather in October to learn about Loop Swim and its vision. It's a company that employs zero waste principles. Fabric made from recycled plastic bottles is used to create fashionable swimwear, and the production process is designed to be as efficient as possible, minimizing waste and adhering to eco-friendly practices at every turn.
"When I was working for Kate Spade and moved to Shanghai, I was able to get into our factories and understand the production processes. I saw so much waste and wanted to use my skills in a way that could create change," says Heather.
The students met with Heather regularly throughout the fall as they worked on their marketing plans, and were excited to present their plans to Heather, Itee and a panel of school leaders in December.
The partnership was reciprocal and rich. Students learned about the business philosophy of Loop Swim and real challenges in promoting products in various geographical markets, and in multiple languages. Heather and Itee came away with new ideas for moving their business forward, ideas they intend to use and develop.
"I wish I had had classes like this in high school," says Heather. "The hands-on learning for the students that occurred during this partnership was deep and they have a real understanding of business principles. Some students don't even get this kind of experience in college."
Mr. Sgourdos was happy with how the student proposals turned out, and hopes to partner with additional Shanghai businesses with a social enterprise foundation in the future. "This is very in line with the vision of applied learning at Concordia," he says. "Being able to have students apply their knowledge and skills to meet real needs with our partners - it's a win/win scenario."
It's also a wonderful and rich example of service learning. All five stages of the service learning cycle (investigation, planning, action, demonstration and reflection) are evident in the student experience, transforming this challenge into a deeper learning experience for everyone involved, students and adults alike.
Listen to the interview below to learn more about Heather's experience with this service learning experience.