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Nazareth Academy students on track for ‘Shark Tank’ in LaGrange Park

Economics teacher Anthony Gonzalez assists Nazareth Academy senior MacKenzie Mitchell from Darien during her presentation Sept. 16 in LaGrange Park on starting a design-your-own fashion boutique. |Jane Michaels/Sun-Times Media
Nazareth Academy seniors Michael Zebrowski of Chicago ( from left) Andrew O'Hea of LaGrange Park and Luke Gerald of Brookfield tell economics classmates about the potential for  their new pizza business near Wrigley Field.  | Jane Michaels/Sun-Times Media
Nazareth Academy seniors Kathryn Mahoney of Clarendon Hills and Mark Haraus of Westchester tell about the launch of their virtual business, Putt Putt Paradise, in an economics class. |Jane Michaels/Sun-Times Media
Economics teacher Anthony Gonzalez enjoys the presentations of his students at  Nazareth Academy describing their virtual start-up businesses Setp. 16 in LaGrange Park. |Jane Michaels/Sun-Times Media
Nazareth Academy senior MacKenzie Mitchell from Darien describes the concept of her virtual business during an economics class Sept. 16 in LaGrange Park. |Jane Michaels/Sun-Times Media

From miniature golf to fashion and frozen yogurt, Nazareth Academy economics students were brimming with entrepreneurial ideas.

Seniors created virtual storefronts, or putting greens, complete with floor plans. The put together websites and market research on demographics and competitors for an assignment on building a business.

“I want kids to experience economics, not simply memorize it and test well on it,” said economics teacher Anthony Gonzalez, beginning his sixth year at high school.

Students used to give presentations on poster boards, but now have a variety of online tools at their disposal through Google Apps for Education. Internet technology prowess helps better prepare students for competition in college and jobs, Gonzalez said

Kathryn Mahoney of Clarendon Hills and Mark Haraus of Westchester developed the concept of Putt Putt Paradise as their virtual enterprise. They would like to locate a miniature golf course near downtown La Grange to attract the kids and teens of families with a median income of $95,000.

MacKenzie Mitchell of Darien added a slick video with a montage of trendy outfits and accessories for her business presentation, Sew Custom. The Stupeflix app made creating the video easy, she said.

“There would be samples on the first floor of different kinds of clothes that you can have tailored to fit you” Mitchell explained. “You have the option to design your own clothes or add to a current design in the store.”

The second floor, accessed by a circular winding staircase, houses sewing machines, fitting rooms and tables of fabric where designers and customers would meet, she said while showing classmates a three dimensional design on a screen. She would like to locate her shop at Oakbrook Center to attract a wide array of clients.

“I realized through this assignment how hard it is to make and run a business and how time consuming it is,” Mitchell said. “I might consider doing it, but not by myself.”

Maura Nicholson of Burr Ridge agreed.

“After trying to work up this project, I have a new-found appreciation for how much times goes into a business and how you have to outsource so much,” Nicholson said. “You have to have quite a bit of patience.”

Nicholson and Anna Rafanelli of Indian Head Park developed Very Very Friendly Yogurt, based on their love of frozen yogurt. Nicholson proposed an array of flavors, including cheesecake, coffee and peanut butter and seasonal varieties like pumpkin.

Gonzalez said he was pleased with his students’ creativity and is considering showcasing their work.

“I have not branched out to other students or faculty as of yet, but would like to create an off-break of the assignment to incorporate a ‘Shark Tank’ portion, like the TV show, where students would make a pitch to others for investment outside of class.”

The technology-focused assignment has benefitted students in opportunities for collaboration and extending learning beyond the classroom, he said.

“My students have the ability to work together while being nowhere near each other,” he said. “I love hearing that my students enjoyed working all night together from their homes and brought back things that I did not even know.”

“They make each other stronger with technology and teach me so much in the process,” he said.

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