Sumter County Schools enlist the help of SCORE to successfully apply for $100,000 grant from the Florida Department of Education
Recently, Sumter County Schools teamed up with members of the Mid-Florida SCORE chapter to successfully apply for the Advancing Career and Technical Education through Entrepreneurship Education and Training (EET) Grant through the Florida Department of Education.
SCORE — the acronym for “Service Corps of Retired Executives” — is a government-funded organization formed with the goal of mentoring small businesses in a variety of relevant topics they may need help with, all at little to no cost to the business.
Phil Winkler is a retired government contractor and the director of community relations for Mid-Florida SCORE.
“The Mid-Florida SCORE chapter has been around for 41 years, and we’re in three counties — Lake, Marion and Sumter,” Winkler said.
When the call came for assistance with the proposal, Winkler assembled a “red team review” with fellow SCORE mentors Don Lester and Fred Streicher to look at the proposal, meaning this would be the first time they had seen it and would be able to look at it with a fresh set of eyes.
“The three of us acted like we were the Florida Department of Education, and we scored the proposal,” Winkler said. “We listed the criteria section by section and said, ‘OK, section one will be scored five points, section two will be scored 20 points,' and then each of us put down our comments. The end result was we found a few holes in the proposal that Casey and his team had to fill. It was very rewarding when Casey told us they were selected for the grant.”
Ferguson says the feedback Winkler and the other SCORE mentors offered was an integral part of the proposal’s success.
“It was a really big deal,” Ferguson said. “Being able to look at and review (the proposal) like they did and then give feedback really made me look at it from a different perspective, and I was then able to tweak it so it really flowed and made more sense.”
For the EET grant, the Florida Department of Education awards varying amounts to school districts and colleges that apply, with $100,000 being the maximum amount. Ferguson says only five school districts in total were awarded the full $100,000 for that time period, many of which were larger districts, including Miami-Dade and Orange.
Normally, the grant proposals are sent much earlier in the school year, according to Ferguson, but with COVID, the proposals were not due until October, and the grant was awarded in January. He now has a few remaining months to spend the money until June, when the grant ends.
He already has several things in motion for Sumter County Schools, and he says the grant money will be incredibly useful in helping train future local entrepreneurs.
“The basic reason of this grant was to promote entrepreneurship education and training,” Ferguson said. “There’s a big need for that. Those skills are included in a lot of our career technical education curriculum, but it’s not a focus or a priority because there are so many other things to teach. So, the basic purpose of this is to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in students — what does that mean and how does it work? And then also to give them the capabilities and help them practice being an entrepreneur.”
Ferguson has a five-point plan for the grant that he has been putting into action, including further professional development for teachers, specialized business software for students, “MakerSpaces” for classrooms with creative equipment and other tools to help promote learning and more funding for school-based enterprises and competitions for students.
There are different MakerSpaces for various industries that the schools focus on, and Ferguson gives examples of more cooking supplies for culinary students, a plasma cutter for construction students and garden areas and tools for horticulture students, among many others.
“The MakerSpaces are designed to help students stimulate ideas and be creative and innovative,” Ferguson said.
Another aspect of the grant that Ferguson is excited for is the school-based enterprises initiative. He set aside some of the grant funds for students to use to help develop their own ideas for businesses that they can then actually get started.
“The students and the teachers work together to generate a business idea, and then they are allowed through this grant to purchase supplies to start that business,” Ferguson said. “I wanted to give them a lot of liberty to be creative, so that’s what the grant was designed for.”
He also says the program has already had some success in the past, with students carrying on their ideas outside the classroom.
“We’ve had some pretty successful ones,” Ferguson said. “One was a drone operator. He’s in college now, but his business part-time was to take drone pictures for real estate agents and home inspectors, and he does really well with that.”
Ferguson says that 70% of the 28,400 Sumter County employers who identify as entrepreneurs are over the age of 55 and may retire in the near future. The need for more younger entrepreneurs is readily apparent, and it is something that Ferguson is passionate about instilling in younger generations. With the help of SCORE, he and Sumter County Schools can now use the EET grant to find and fund future business leaders.
“If you think about it, where are our entrepreneurs going to come from?,” he said. “If students have no idea what an entrepreneur is, we’re going to have some businesses that are not going to do so well. So, we’ve really got to get to work. That’s my goal.”