School attendance was one of the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, but beyond regular classroom instruction, students who attended programs away from campuses also lost opportunities.
Among the programs the Whiteside Area Career Center provides for selected high school students is CEO, Creating Entrepreneur Opportunities, which introduces students to dozens of Sauk Valley area business owners who share their knowledge with students from several area schools. Prophetstown High School had five students in this year’s program; Max Jones, Kaitlin Hanrahan, Clayton Johnson, Sean Sandrock, and Carson Farrell. The program has continued to grow and develop over the years and this year the program was split into two groups to accommodate more students.
Each spring the program culminates with the CEO annual trade show in which the students create a business and sell their services or wares to the public.
The show is usually held during May at Northland Mall in Sterling, but with the state of the pandemic the show was not held. The group however, did not give up on the idea of holding an alternative event.
The group continued to meet via Zoom through the end of the school year, but before biding farewell to their classmates they decided, with the guidance of their instructors, to hold the trade show at the Sterling Marketplace for those who wanted to participate.
Of the five PHS students in the program, Kaitlin Hanrahan, Max Jones, and Sean Sandrock decided to attend the event even though it was not required and additionally Hanrahan and Sandrock have graduated.
Hanrahan, who will be attending Sauk Valley Community College this fall, sold her chocolate dipped pretzel rods sprinkled with various toppings called “Poppin’ Pretzels”.
Her original business plan was to make decals, but once the program was interrupted she decided that idea was not practical. She went an easier route to still participate. “I wanted to see everyone again and I needed closure with the group,” said the future elementary school teacher.
Max Jones, a farm boy, sold what turned out to be a big hit, sweet corn, although it was also not his first choice. “I was going to make salsa, but decided if I made it and didn’t have a chance to sell it, I would be stuck with a lot of salsa.” He decided after finding out about the alternate date for the show that he could produce a product he knows a lot about; corn. “My family always raises some sweet corn, so I asked my dad if we could plant more and he agreed to a half an acre.”
Despite an infestation of Japanese Beetles in his peaches and cream variety he was able to turn a nice crop of yellow sweetcorn. Jones filled the back of his pickup truck and bagged the summer treat in bags of 13 ears for $5. His project required him to go “old school” when he planted the crop as his dad’s twenty-four planter and accompanying tractor were too large for the operation. Instead, he pulled out an old four-row planter pulled by a smaller tractor. “I learned a lot through the process. You have to be ready for what’s coming around the next corner. You have to have a Plan B.”
Sean Sanrock’s first idea was to grow Bamboo, but decided that he might have space issues. He then pondered a few on-line ideas including selling excess seed from large farms to smaller farms. Eventually he settled on an old family recipe courtesy of his great grandmother; Fudge.
Sandrock, who will be attending Eureka College this fall, said he had heard his mother and sister talk about the fudge, but he had never sampled any. Once he got the recipe, “Grandma’s Secret Sweets” was born. “I have six flavors and made twenty-two pans for the show,” he said. Sandrock says he does all the work himself and even got an early start on the project taking on-line orders earlier in the summer.
The recent graduate also wanted to be a part of the show for reasons other just selling his fudge. “I was the project manager for our “Life On Hold” book, which I worked on closely with our instructor LeAndra Hartman.” The book is a collection of journals written by members of the CEO class about their experiences during the COVID Pandemic. The book is being sold at the show with all proceeds (donations) going to the Sauk Valley Food Bank.
Hartman said only a few of her students did not make the show for a variety of reasons. “The students got to experience a great example of what can happen in life.” She added that the students losing their group support was a huge hurdle for them to overcome, but said,” I am very proud of them.”