Igniting an Entrepreneurial Mindset that Reaches Beyond the Classroom

Gretchen Lee

It has been said that entrepreneurs aren’t born, they are made. It might even be more accurate to say that they are self-made. But what is it that entrepreneurs need in order to be successful? They need a big idea that solves a problem, the knowledge and education to develop that idea, the courage to implement it, the financial literacy to be good stewards, and the resilience, creativity and critical thinking to be able to resolve issues, pivot when necessary and adjust their original idea to fit new market challenges.  Not a skill set one would expect students in grades PreK through 4th to have mastered. But at Saddle River Day School, the seeds of the entrepreneurial mindset are being planted in our youngest students through project-based learning designed to start them on the path toward making themselves exactly who they want to be as students and, eventually, as adults.
 
At Saddle River Day School, individual talents are recognized, appreciated and encouraged. Students are given the latitude to contribute to projects in ways that support their talents and abilities. They are also challenged to tackle the pieces of projects that are less comfortable to them. Risk-taking is encouraged and resilience is emphasized. This sounds great but how is it actually put into practice?
 
This year, in the Lower School, students will be involved in Project-Based Fridays. Some of these projects will actually be one day projects, some will extend for several weeks. These cross-curricular experiences will involve core subject teachers as well as Special Area teachers. So, for example, when the first grade decides to start a restaurant, their math lessons might involve learning about money and coins, their science teacher might work with them on measurements, they might design logos in art class and work together to develop a theme and a menu. Third graders might use a 50 States unit as an opportunity to become “travel agents”, delving deep into the history and attractions of a state, examining the ratio of time to distance for various modes of travel, and creating a marketing brochure for the state. What we know is that every child will have something unique to contribute based on their skills, talents and interests. It’s our job to give them the tools to be able to contribute confidently and effectively; tools that will serve them long after they finish each project. 
 
This entrepreneurial mindset extends to the new lower school math program, Dimensions Math. Following the Singapore math model, the focus of the program is on discovery, conceptual problem solving and number sense. The program trusts students to work autonomously, but with close teacher supervision, to make connections, question for deeper understanding, explore, explain and learn to solve one problem multiple ways. The end goal is better fluency, accuracy, flexible thinking, and more efficient problem solving. This training will, of course, be applicable to many other aspects of the students’ learning and life.
 
At SRDS, we recognize that now, more than ever, everything is interconnected. The skills learned in one class can be applied in another. No subject can be taught in a vacuum. As a tight-knit community, we also know that everyone is interconnected. Even our youngest learners understand that when we work together, we work better. This appreciation of individual strengths and the commitment to support and develop them is an essential part of the entrepreneurial mindset and is at the heart of the Saddle River Day School mission to “educate each individual child so they can meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world with confidence and compassion.”