PASCO -- Yesenia Lazaro is a high school student. This week, she's also the CEO of a company that's developing a new line of contact lenses that double as computer screens.
She and her "employees" -- all fellow Pasco High seniors -- are spending the week learning what it's like to run a business, from brainstorming new products to sweating over stockholder presentations.
Also, "(we're) learning to work as a team," said Lazaro, 18.
That's exactly what organizers hoped. This is the 10th year of Pasco School District's Enterprise program, in which high school seniors are divided into "companies" and challenged to keep their businesses afloat as they complete computer simulations and other hands-on activities.
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The goal is to teach kids about the business world, but also about working with diverse groups of people and learning to solve problems, said Chris Martinson, the district's director of Career and Technical Education.
"It's a really different way of doing school," he said.
Nearly 600 students are participating this year. The program runs through Friday at TRAC in Pasco.
On Wednesday, students were putting the finishing touches on prototypes of the new products they dreamed up. Lazaro's group was working on finger pads that would be used as controllers for their virtual contact lenses.
The prototypes were fashioned from office products such as paper anddidn't have to actually work.
Other groups came up with products ranging from a new kind of disposable water bottle, to a stylish recyclable shoe, to a one-stop entertainment station with a coffee maker and video game console.
The students will give marketing presentations to a panel of experts and also report on the success and failures of their companies to volunteer "stockholders."
More than 100 adults -- including many area business leaders -- are volunteering their time to act as company advisers or judge the students' work.
Several said Wednesday that it's rewarding to help students gain skills they'll use the rest of their lives.
"It amazes me that you can take a diverse group of young adults and by the end of the week they have formed a cohesive team," said volunteer Bob Gaines. He is retired from the Coast Guard and the corporate world and now works part-time in the Herald's circulation department.
Each of the companies is made up of about 15 students, who are given different responsibilities -- from CEO to human resources manager.
There are enough seniors in the district that the students often don't know their business partners well before the week begins. But that soon changes.
"It's a great opportunity for students to get to know each other," said Ruben Garcia, 17, a Pasco High senior.
"Everybody has different strengths" they bring to their team, said classmate Jennifer Nichols, 17.
The program this year includes students from Pasco High and the smaller New Horizons High School, the district's alternative high school.
Chiawana High, which opened this fall off West Argent Road, doesn't have a senior class this year but will be part of Enterprise next year, officials said.
Enterprise uses curriculum from the Washington Business Week program, which is run by the Federal Way-based Foundation for Private Enterprise Education.
"(Students) really learn and gain better interpersonal skills, how to work as a team, what it means to work hard" through the hands-on experiences provided, said Stephen Hyer, foundation executive director.
Tyler Stock, 19, a senior at New Horizons, said Wednesday that he was having a good week so far.
There were stressful moments but "it's a great feeling that we're here," Stock said. "We can show people we are somebody, that we care about (our education)."
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org