(RIO BRAVO) - Sisters Karen and Kimberly López, 12 and 13, respectively, are no different than most middle school students when it comes to their future plans.
At times, the two bubbly girls attending Salvador García Middle School toy with the idea of becoming doctors. On other days, they imagine themselves as owners of an ice cream shop, and, when they feel brave enough, speculate about a car sales business anywhere in the United States.
For the two, a definite career decision may be a little beyond the horizon for now. But with the help of a unique summer business camp offered through Texas A&M International University's Texas Center for Border Economics and Enterprise Development, they are starting to explore entrepreneurship as an option.
Dubbed the "Biz Camp," the program, supported by a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant, aims at aiding economic development in colonias through entrepreneurial education in middle schools. The program is being offered for the first time this year to a small group of 6th to 8th grade students who reside in Rio Bravo and El Cenizo. Classes are offered daily at Salvador García Middle School.
Patricia Canseco, Texas Center project coordinator and Biz Camp teacher, said that the program offering is appropriate because Center research shows that the majority of the local colonia population is young.
"The youth population ranges from 8 to 22 years of age and as we have tried to work with adults who want to start a business, we've realized that we should also prepare young students for entrepreneurial training," Canseco said.
She said Biz Camp teaches students basics of personal finance, tools for managing money, characteristics and traits of entrepreneurs, recognition of needs to service markets and basic steps of starting a business. In addition, students learn that they are also part of the economy, Canseco said.
"The (local colonias) lack economic development" Canseco said, "We've figured that if the children are motivated and that little fire is ignited, they will pursue either starting a business or coming back and helping their community."
Currently, the course is team-taught by Canseco and Rosalia Guerrero, director of operations for Centro Aztlán, a local social service agency.
The HUD grant requires the Texas Center to partner with a community organization, Since the Center has an on-going working relationship with Centro Aztlán, Guerrero was the ideal choice for a Biz Camp teacher, Canseco said.
"She (Guerrero) was also a business student at TAMIU and because of her work experience in the community, she is well known by local leaders," Canseco said.
At Biz Camp, students not only receive instruction but also hands-on experience at checking stock prices.
Kimberly and Karen, along with their classmates, are required to browse the Wall Street Journal daily and jot down their chosen company's dividends in a makeshift checkbook.
"This way, I can see how much money I made," said Karen recently, as she showed her checkbook.
Like the two sisters, Samantha Venegas, 14, a student at Salvador García Middle School, said she decided to spend this summer at Biz Camp because she wanted to learn her career options.
"I like to design clothes, so, I would like to open a clothing store or gallery. This class teaches me what entrepreneurs do and how to manage a business," she said.
David Nuñez, 12, also a Salvador García Middle School student, said he volunteered to participate in Biz Camp because he wanted to learn what he wants to do in the future.
"I want to be in a police academy and want to go to college," Nuñez said.
Meanwhile, Kimberly said she is learning to save money.
"I'm learning the difference between a manager and an employee. Bosses work extra hours, but are paid more and employees are different," she noted.
For further information about the Biz Camp, please contact Dr. Michael Patrick, Texas Center director, at 326-2547, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit offices located in the Western Hemispheric Trade Center, room 221D.
University office hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.