08/22/2011 09:39 pm ET | Updated Oct 22, 2011

Teen Entrepreneurs Show Us the Future of Business

It's no secret the U.S. faces a dropout crisis among high school students -- an issue that has a direct effect on the future workforce. One challenge many educators face is that the traditional classroom model doesn't work for every student.

What are the alternatives? Junior Achievement's JA Company Program and the North American JA Company of the Year competition are exciting opportunities for Junior Achievement students to demonstrate the teamwork, leadership and innovative thinking that will help them drive success in the business world. This program gives teens the opportunity to start and run their own businesses under the mentorship of a local business volunteer. It is also a perfect example of a non-traditional classroom experience that can truly make a difference in the lives of participating students.

At our recent 2011 North American JA Company of the Year event in Washington, D.C., nearly 100 teen entrepreneurs from the U.S. and Canada had the opportunity to network with AOL Founder Steve Case, with U.S. Small Business Administration head Karen Mills and with their Congressional or consulate representatives.

These JA students also participated in a trade fair where they pitched and sold their products, and produced commercials about their products which you can check out on Facebook.

The 2011 competition winners came from first-time participants at St. Paul, Minnesota's High School for the Recording Arts, a project-based, public charter school that operates within and around a professional recording studio. The school encourages students who may have dropped out or been expelled from traditional schools to complete their diplomas through a love of music. The school works to show how students' interests can directly relate to a business career in the future.

Already in a non-traditional learning environment, these students also benefited from the lessons they learned about business through Junior Achievement. Working closely with local business volunteers, the students' company, Leave Your Mark Everywhere (L.Y.M.E) provided local marketing and advertising services to local businesses, producing radio advertisements that ran on the school's radio station. L.Y.M.E.'s gross income totaled just under $2,000. They completed 16 advertising packages for nine diverse clients in the Twin Cities.

As part of the JA Company of the Year competition, they were up against teams who created and sold a variety of products and services, including artwork and event centerpieces from recycled materials, themed t-shirts and letter-art photography frames.

For the shareholders of L.Y.M.E., this win brought these students more than just bragging rights. The winning students each received a $1,000 scholarship to apply toward post-secondary education, and according to teacher Ms. Sayra Loftus, participation in the program brought out visible changes in her students - a transformation into young, focused, confident businessmen and women as a result of their participation.

L.Y.M.E.'s Vice President of Marketing Kurtis Greenwood said, "The whole experience with JA has helped me develop my entrepreneurial skills and has also prepared me to start a business of my own with confidence that I can work with anyone, anywhere. It also reminded me that the world is limitless, you can reach anything you put your mind to."

The traditional classroom model doesn't work for every student - but there are programs we can implement during classroom time to link learning to the real world - and strengthen our future workforce and create jobs in the process.