reWorking Michigan: New Lansing Charter School Has Lofty Economic Vision

Sep 10, 2012

Data often show a clear connection linking employment back to education.  In Lansing, the executives of a new public school academy are going a step further by focusing its curriculum on entrepreneurialism and leadership. 

In this week’s reWorking Michigan, WKAR’s Mark Bashore sits down with two executives of the ‘Learn, Live, Lead’ charter school to learn more.  Founder Paula Cunningham is the CEO of Lansing’s Capitol National Bank. Sam Davis is the President of the school. 

MARK BASHORE:  The ‘Learn, Live, Lead’ charter school--or ‘L3’ as it’s called--aims to cultivate what it calls “the entrepreneurial spirit that exists within each student.”  That’s something Cunningham feels doesn’t get enough attention in schools. 

FOUNDER PAULA CUNNINGHAM:  I can’t find a place or know of place where it’s emphasized anywhere in the young adult’s life, so I absolutely believe that it’s something that young people need to know about.  They need to know about the ‘Return on Investment’ and that return on investment---really the most important one they’ll ever have—is what they invest in themselves.  And that’s part of the leadership responsibility (and) the civic responsibility that we’re teaching here at ‘Learn, Live, Lead.’

BASHORE:  Looking years down the road, is it an exaggeration to say you’d like ‘Learn, Live, Lead’ to play a role in job creation?  Is that part of your thought process here?

CUNNINGHAM:  No question, absolutely.  It’s not even whether I’d like it to or not, it will.  I mean, that’s an emphatic statement.  It will because when you are training and helping to develop leaders who can think critically, leaders who can understand what it takes to be successful, leaders who know how to integrate into the business community from age pre-K all the way through 12th grade, there’s no doubt that that will impact our economic growth and capacity in our region and in our state.

BASHORE:  I understand that ‘return on investment’ has a particular meaning here at ‘Learn, Live Lead.’  How does that work?

CUNNINGHAM:  Any businessperson will tell you that when they make an investment, they want to know what their return is going to be.  They want to know how they’re going to get paid and what kind of interest they’re going to have off of that investment.  What we’re saying to kids is that the investment that you make is in yourself.  What you put in—knowledge, learning, determination, hard work, responsibility—you will get out. And when you get it out of yourself, it will come out in many different ways. 

First of all, you’ll be a better leader.  But you’ll also know how to learn because that’s what we’re teaching you—not that learning has a period behind every sentence, but it’s a question mark, so you continue to learn.  You’ll know how to lead a community, lead an organization, to run a business.  You’ll understand financial literacy.  You’ll understand that (a) behavior has consequences.  So if you’re late, Mark Bashore, coming to school, you might get $10 deducted from your account because that behavior has a consequence.  But if you’re here all day and you do the work, then maybe you might get $90--or 90 points as we would say in traditional education--added to your account.   We’re using dollars so (they) can understand that every behavior has a consequence. 

BASHORE:  So every kid has an ‘account?’

CUNNINGHAM:  Every kid will have an established ‘bank account’ here and they can either add to it based on the work that they’re supposed to do, or if the behavior is contrary to what we’re asking them, then those dollars are deducted.  But even if they’re deducted, you can go back and you can say ‘Well here’s my written excuse’—not verbal, so it’s teaching them writing skills.  So they have to write an excuse to the classroom manager and say ‘I was late because…’  And…if the classroom manager accepts that excuse--just like HR—if HR were to accept that excuse, then you might…get (your pay docked).

BASHORE:  President Sam Davis, how aware are these young kids of the school’s emphasis on leadership?

PRESIDENT SAM DAVIS:  They’re very aware of it.  From day one, we talk to the students about leadership.  We talk to them about the consequences, the successes, the rewards of being an effective leader.  And we show them each and every day. 

We want them to understand that by your example, you help….your company to grow.  And your company in this case is L3.  And the success of this entire company is invested in each and every person. 

But how do you turn your part in this into a success?  By investing in yourself.  By being very responsible for your actions, by being very responsible for the consequences that come from your actions.    When students are coming into the building in the morning, and if they’re coming in after 8 o’clock, we remind them that this is a business.  And that if they were to continue to not be on time, there are consequences just as there are in the real world.  So we want them to understand right now: they have those responsibilities.

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as the people of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future.  A project of WKAR NewsRoom, WKAR-TV and WKAR Online.