Hands-on learning yeilds young entrepreneurs


Entrepreneurial students at the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC) are taking their lessons out of the classroom and into the community. And for some students, a simple class assignment has snowballed.

For Aria Procaccini and Katerina Denardo, they can wear the fruits of their labor.

The juniors, the only girls in their class, created a Cranston West bracelet with well-known designer Angela Moore.

"I know the girls are really, really excited about this, which makes me happy. It keeps them interested," said teacher David Bizier.

The project started when Bizier, a teacher in the Entrepreneurship Program and the DECA advisor, asked his students to write a letter to a business requesting copies of their marketing materials. Procaccini and Denardo sent away to Angela Moore, with an additional request, asking if she would consider designing a bracelet for the school.

"We weren't even expecting a response," Procaccini said.

But they got more than a response. One of Moore's assistants contacted the students and invited them to a trunk show at Hasbro Children's Hospital. They thought they would just get a chance to meet the designer, but they ended up helping to run the show.

"It was nerve-wracking at first, but she's very calm and nice," Procaccini said. "We thought we were just going to observe her, but she threw all these things at us. The day turned out really well."

That experience alone enhanced the entrepreneurial curriculum. Denardo said she learned about how to talk to customers, and also how to handle money.

Afterwards, they teamed up with Moore to brainstorm about jewelry. Together they created four custom beads - one with the Cranston West falcon, one with the CACTC logo, one with a graduation cap and one with a breast cancer ribbon to signify all the fundraising they do at the school. The fifth bead is a signature Angela Moore bead with the designer's initials.

"We were really impressed with how it came out," Denardo said.

Bracelets sell for $50. There are also pendants available for $35 with either the pink ribbon bead or the Falcon logo.

Students who pre-ordered their bracelets got a discount at $35.

"We felt, as a public high school, we weren't sure if we could get $50 from every student," Procaccini said.

The bracelets cost $24 for Moore to make, with the remaining proceeds going to the school's DECA chapter. As they try to turn a profit, they are in the midst of marketing and promoting the jewelry. They hope to boost sales with a trunk show on May 1.

"We've tried our hardest," Denardo said. "We want to sell more at the trunk show."

To purchase the exclusive Cranston West Angela Moore bracelet or pendant, email coolcranston@gmail.com or call 585-6526.

The friends' jewelry is not the only work of creativity on display. As part of an Adopt-a-room project, sophomore Natalia Perretta created a seascape mural in the faculty dining room.

When the idea was initially presented, Bizier asked his class who was artistic, and all fingers pointed to Perretta.

"I love to paint. That's my number one thing, is painting," she said. "It takes my mind away."

Perretta purchased wood and dipped into her personal paint supply to create four panels that, put together, show a pair of Adirondack chairs on a sandy beach with a palm tree overhead and the ocean stretched out before them.

"It was a very hard thing to do when it wasn't together," Perretta said. "It was a long process."

She worked on it over Christmas vacation and at night for a month. Now that it is finished, Perretta said she is proud that a piece of her work will stay at CACTC long after she is gone.

"To have something that's mine up on the wall makes me happy," she said.

For Marc Fontaine and Rich D'Amico, entrepreneurship assignments are a way to give back. For their DECA project, they are coordinating a Car Show Fundraiser for May 18. Half of the proceeds will support a fellow student who races professionally. The other half will benefit Bread and Blessings, a soup kitchen in Providence. It's a cause that is close to Fontaine's heart.

"I've been volunteering at Bread and Blessings for about eight months now. I can't really go as much as I used to because of school, but I thought this would be pretty cool," he said of the event.

Fontaine says the number of people who need Bread and Blessings' support is significant, and he wants to take his volunteer work a step farther.

"I see the same people all the time; it's kind of sad," he said.

The car show will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the 18th, and will include entertainment from DJ Car Guy, contests, trophies and food. Fontaine and D'Amico have engaged other CACTC programs to pitch in.

"We're trying to get the entire career and tech school involved in the car show," D'Amico said.

The culinary program is going to be there cooking hot dogs, for example, and the graphic design students will be selling T-shirts.

"It's marketing career and tech. Not too many people know about it," Fontaine said.

The show is open to the public. The entry fee is $1 with a canned good or $2 without; the cost to bring your car is $10 with a canned good or $12 without.

DECA has another event in the works that they're hoping the community will support. DECA chapters nationwide have partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the CACTC chapter is gearing up for their annual walk in March. To help with fundraising efforts, members Natalie Conley, Rebecca Farland and Amanda DeLuca are selling paper shamrocks for $1. Students can put their names on the shamrocks, which will then be put up in a high-traffic area of the school.

"Or goal is to sell at least 100," DeLuca said.

Independently, the senior girls are also soliciting donations. Donations can be made online on the MDA.org website, and donors can indicate that they are supporting the local DECA chapter.

Right now, DECA has one team of walkers, but they're hoping to assemble two teams of six to support a cause that they feel tied to after learning more about muscular dystrophy at a DECA conference. A young boy with MD spoke at the event, and he will be at the Rhode Island walk as well.

"It was sad to see, but it makes us really want to do the walk," Conley said.

Farland was impressed with the boy's presence, despite suffering from the degenerative muscle disorder.

"He was really comfortable with himself anyway," she said.

If the DECA team is able to raise $250, MDA says a donation of that size helps a patient build another muscle. For $800, a child with MD can go to camp. Most importantly, the team is hoping to raise awareness among their peers and the community at large.

"People don't really know what it is exactly, so we're teaching people more about it," Conley said. "We want to get more people involved."

Bizier said he is proud of all of his students and the ambitious projects they've taken on. In his classroom, he tries to identify his students' interests and then tailor projects to them.

"It's not your typical class where you open a textbook and you take a test after," he said. "It's definitely hands-on."

Bizier thanked CACTC Director Gerry Auth and West Principal Tom Barbieri for their support. After teaching in Central Falls for 13 years, Bizier says his first year at CACTC has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

"I'm able to do so much more with these kids," he said. "They like the fact that everything is hands-on. Whatever is trending, so to speak, is where I'm going to go and grab those ideas."


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