A program designed to foster student entrepreneurship and economic success equitably continues to gain momentum with help from some of the area’s most prominent companies.
St. Petersburg’s Lakewood High School will offer Junior Achievement Tampa Bay’s 3DE instructional model when it welcomes students back to class Aug. 10. The initiative integrates the business community into education to increase career opportunities and meet industry needs.
Local conglomerates such as Raymond James, ReliaQuest, Jabil, Power Design, PNC and TD Synnex partner with Junior Achievement to increase the nonprofit’s impact and bolster the region’s talent pipeline. Kim Hill, chief of staff with ReliaQuest, told the Catalyst that 3DE is “a great way for us to develop future leaders.”
“Students can apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real-world scenarios, and they give us a lot of feedback and ideas in the process,” Hill added. “It’s a two-way street, and I always think we learn more from the students than they do from us.”
The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Hough Family Foundation and several local philanthropic organizations also support Junior Achievement’s cause. According to its website, 3DE is a “school within a school” that “re-engineers education to be more relevant, experiential and authentically connected to the complexities of the real world.”
It launched in 2020 at Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Chamberlain and Hillsborough High Schools. Gibbs and Tenoroc (Polk County) High Schools joined in 2022.
Stakeholders say the program is a resounding success, and Lakewood, Blake and Jefferson High Schools will adopt the business-focused curriculum this fall. Hill said 3DE introduces youth to “high-demand careers they may have never known existed.”
“Junior Achievement has done a great job making their programs highly relevant to the needs we’re seeing in the workplace,” she said. “What’s really impressive is that students aren’t only learning about the subject matter – like cybersecurity, in our case – they’re also learning how to think creatively and make decisions, which will be valuable in any career path they choose.”
Participants have also sung 3DE’s praises. Several teens competing in Junior Achievement’s inaugural Innovator’s Showcase in April said the initiative taught valuable skills and helped them turn ideas or side hustles into legitimate businesses.
They also said 3DE instilled the professionalism needed for post-graduation success. Superintendent Kevin Hendrick noted participants from intentionally selected public schools receive programming often reserved for high-end magnet programs.
Christina Roberts, executive director of 3DE, explained the program would incorporate about a third of Lakewood’s freshman class. She said the target is 140-150 students.
“We mirror the host high school in gender, race, ethnicity and academic performance,” Roberts said. “And we do that by design because we want to measure our impact year-over-year.”
Junior Achievement opens 3DE to an additional grade as students progress through high school. For example, the program will now encompass three grade levels at its four launch schools, and Lakewood sophomores could enroll next year.
Roberts said 3DE and district officials collaboratively determine which schools could best utilize the program. The goal is to increase opportunities and excitement, and she measures success according to student engagement.
Chronic absenteeism dropped 20.5% in the four launch schools by the program’s second year, Roberts said. She added that 85% of 3DE students outperformed their peers on state assessments.
In addition to preparing teens for the “real world,” Hill noted that 3DE builds confidence and fosters collaboration. Participants advance through the program together, forming relationships with each other and their teachers.
It also offers students – especially those who don’t play sports – a chance to compete. That was on display at the Innovators Showcase, as members of the winning team, Dunedin High School’s Take Care Cosmetics, burst into tears after hearing their name called.
Roberts said 3DE also increases scholarship, internship and networking opportunities and believes it will help address workforce shortages. Hendrick said participants would become community leaders “for the next 35 to 50 years.”
Hill echoed that sentiment and said it also provides another avenue for ReliaQuest to give back to the community. According to the latest 3DE statistics, nearly 400 local business professionals have served as volunteers and mentors.
Program officials are already preparing for the next expansion, and Roberts plans to add four new local high schools by 2028. She also believes that every school would benefit from the 3DE model.
“Our vision is systemic transformation of public high school education to provide economic opportunity for all students,” Roberts added.