Community pitches in for middle school project - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Eau Claire school hosts local version of Shark Tank

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Some brave Eau Claire seventh graders ventured into uncharted waters today. Students at Delong Middle School hosted their own version of the popular ABC show, Shark Tank, where people pitch business ideas to a panel of judges known as sharks. 

We first told you about Shark Tank in March, when it had it's trial run. It was so successful, they decided to expand, with one major difference. Instead of teachers and students being the sharks, Delong reached out to the community and had a great turnout.

"We have about 300 seventh graders that are participating in this project. Last year it was just about 90 students. I had co-workers who were willing to jump with me and try it as a whole entire grade this year," Jennifer Birkholz of Delong Middle School, who started the program.

Another key difference is the sharks this year were a little less familiar.

"Last year we had a lot more staff members, we had a couple parents. So, it was much more local to the building. This year we went out and recruited from the chamber," Birkholz says.

Instead of pitching ideas to parents, the sharks this year were school board members, photographers, VP's, entrepreneurs and marketing executives, just to name a few.

"I responded to a newsletter from the Chamber of Commerce. They were looking for volunteers and it seemed like a fun opportunity to get involved and help the kids have a great experience," Brian Roeker of Grace Lutheran Foundation says.

"They asked us about the development of the teen club and the money figures a lot. We were asked what the grant from the city was for," Lauren Skolos says, a Delong 7th grader.

More than 100 community volunteers, all asking questions for the benefit of the students...or were they?

"Some of the students had very exciting, energetic and creative ideas. There were roller coasters. We had DJ's, pools hockey rinks and an assortment of fantastic ideas," Roeker says.

"We had a climbing wall, a trampoline park, soccer turf, basketball courts," Skolos says.

The community members we spoke with today all said they would be happy to come back and shark again next year.

The teachers say not only do students learn about economics from the program - they also learn valuable life skills like public speaking.

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