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Program designed to help Inland Empire high school students

Started 18 months ago, International Business Partners already has several of its students attending college. Now it hopes to get bigger. 

A year and a half ago, Eddy Sumar put together a program for the Riverside Virtual School designed to get students there interested in pursuing a business career.

The program, International Business Pathways, is a series of three-hour seminars that cover general and international business practices, with an emphasis on social media. It’s part of Career Technical Education, a nationwide program that provides high school students with academic and technical training.

About 12.5 million students are enrolled in CTE, according to the program’s website.

International Business Pathways is finishing its third semester at Riverside Virtual School – an alternative institution where most of the work is done online – and its first semester at Martin Luther King High School, also in Riverside.

“We’re into our second year and we’ve been able to get the program into a second school, which is a major plus,” said Sumar, who runs his own business, ER Consulting, out of his house in Rancho Cucamonga. “We have 25 students in the program at Martin Luther King, 11 in the Virtual School, and we’ve already had four from Riverside Virtual go on to college.”

Sumar put together International Business Pathways with David Dillon, a social studies teacher in the Riverside Unified School District. Both received an assist from the Center for International Trade Development – Inland Empire in Corona, which helps importers and exporters and is a resource for schools and businesses in Riverside and and San Bernardino counties.

International Business Pathways is meant to give high school students the background they need to either compete in a university business program or one day start their own business. Dillon, who has taught in Riverside Unified for nine years, devised a curriculum that focuses on business and entrepreneurship and that meets California’s graduation requirements.

The program is based on a series of principles Sumar developed that he dubbed OTIS: open-mindedness, trust and technology, integrity and seeking solutions.

Sumar began working on OTIS after he lectured at Valley View High School, a continuation school in Ontario, and realized that he need to develop something that would help him reach his audience.

“Not everyone is interested in a business career, but that doesn’t matter,” Sumar said. “These are principals that can be applied to any career path, which is one of the best things about this program.”

Students in International Business Pathways are instructed in a number of areas, including time management, writing a resume, customer service, basic financial literacy and public speaking. Besides the standard classroom work, students are required to take field trips to several locations, including Tyler Mall in Riverside, Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and Altura Credit Union.

Sumar’s ultimate goal is to get the program sanctioned by the state of California and into every high school, public and private, throughout the state.

“We want to turn business education on its head,” Sumar said. “This is not something you get in other high schools, where students go out and see how a business really operates. You get that in college, but not in high school.”

One of the first field trips – or boot camps, as Sumar likes to call them – was to the Galleria at Tyler in Riverside, where students were asked to assess customer service at three of the regional mall’s anchor tenants: Nordstrom, Macy’s and JC Penney.

“We got an interesting response,” Sumar said. “Nordstrom got the highest marks, and Macy’s did well. At JC Penney, if they went in alone they didn’t get any attention from the staff, probably because they’re so young they didn’t think they were a customer, which should have no bearing on anything.

“As soon as you walk in the door, you’re a customer. That was a lesson they were not going to learn in a classroom.”

That “hands-on” approach to learning the business world was one of the most appealing things about International Business Pathways when Sumar first pitched the idea in 2015, Dillon said.

“I was working on a similar idea at the time, so it was easy for us to get together,” Dillon said. “So far, I think it has been pretty successful.”

International Business Pathways may one day become a standard part of high school classes in California, as Sumar envisions, but the program might also have trouble attracting large numbers of students.

“I would like to have more kids involved, but I also understand that most parents prefer that their kids go to a traditional school,” Dillon said, “You have to find someone who is willing to try something very different, and that’s not easy to do. I also understand that we don’t have a big budget, and that we’re just trying to get the word out as best we can.”

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