Today I feature an educational concept, a school designed specifically for kids at risk - the Ultimate Business University. The UBU has been the brainchild of Sharyn Abbott. The Ultimate Business University is a program that provides at-risk children an alternative to the dead-end system that is currently available and keeps them without the hope of a bright future. The combination between multi-media education and a full scale trade school will offer a well balanced future. Where will it be established? Belize - a country located on the northeastern coast of Central America. It is the only country in the area where English is the official language, although an English creole and Spanish are more commonly spoken.
Welcome, Sharyn ...
What made you decide to develop a school for kids at risk?
A: My brother was adopted when he was 5 and I ended up taking him in when he was 15 and I was 24. Some of the stories he told me about being in foster care made a huge impact on me. In 1998 he ended up with colon cancer and managed to survive10 years. I promised him I would build the school as a legacy to his life and all the children who don’t have any adult supervision.
Where is Belize?
A: It’s about a thousand miles south east of Mexico City and borders Guatemala.
Why take kids from the USA to Belize?
A: The main reason is it’s about 1/3 the cost to feed, educate and house the children in Belize. Everything there is more affordable and since there are only 350,000 total residence in Belize and the jobless rate is 13%. This school will provide a major financial impact for the country as the average blue collar (teacher, police & retail) earn less than $10,000 US a year.
Three years is a long time for these kids to be out of the country. Any reason for this?
A: It takes awhile to nurture abused effects and bring children back around. They will begin during their sophomore year and continue through the end of their senior year. We will make it possible for them to have family visitors.
How will the children be selected? Will they have any say in this?
A: We are approaching to juvenile court judges (so far we have five) who will give the children an option between juvenile hall or UBU, so it will definitely be their choice. They will be predominantly first offenders (for shoplifting and other petty crimes) based on their trying to survive on their own.
Will it present a challenge to take them from the U.S.?
A: Since they will be at least 15 years old they will be emancipated so they can get an entry visa. The majority of these kids aren’t with their parents for one reason or another.
Will the students learn other languages?
A: We will have a full language program as well as emersion courses. One of the unique programs for the students is having children from all over the world. Hopefully two from many countries who will be assigned a Sunday to prepare their homeland food, expose the rest of the students to their language, present the history of their country and what their music and entertainment is like at home.
What makes UBU different than other high school programs?
A: The first thing is the entire required curriculum is in multi-media. Each course will be video taped and edited by the students to improve the curriculum. We will have all of what we consider electives in the U.S. as mandatory courses. Topics such as performing arts, cooking, sewing, agriculture, horticulture, organic farming, alternative energy, auto mechanics and even construction trade courses. These classes will be taught by visiting experts in the field. We will have extensive entrepreneurial training as regular classes.
We will have each student start their own business during the first month they are on site and at the beginning of their junior year the weekly grant writing class will be mandatory. The students will be encouraged to re-invent each and every product we use on the campus. Innovation will be a large part of their education.
How will you select the teachers and counsellors?
A: We are targeting teachers and counsellors who will hopefully be half from the U.S., 25% from Belize and the balance from around the world. They will be recruited by our own teacher’s recruitment department and offered a one year contract which can renewed.
When will the first classes launch?
A: The target is for January 2014 with 500 boys and 500 girls. We’ll need some time to work out the details in the programs and then add 1,000 each in the fall of 2014 and each subsequent year.
Will the students in Belize be involved in the school?
A: I am so happy about this point. The children in Belize have no schooling available after they turn 15. We will be putting computers into the schools and churches and all of the curricula will be available to local students at no charge.
What do you perceive as your biggest challenges – the kids themselves, or the running of the project?
A: I take the Henry Ford approach to everything. Hire the experts and let them make the best decisions. The challenges will surface I am sure, but we will have an amazing team involved. So far there are more than 100 people who have been working in the background (without pay so far) to make sure the project will launch as smoothly as possible.
I noticed you talk about the school being self-sustainable, how much of the school’s requirements will you be able to provide?
A: We will grow the majority of the food we’ll require. I have an amazing organic farming expert who is dedicated to the project. We will have a canning facility to preserve excess crops as well as raising cattle, chickens and other livestock. We will have our own water treatment and water power plants. We will be planting trees that grow a nut that can be converted to alternative fuel too.
Eventually we’ll have our own clothing manufacturing plant and when we see other areas of impacting the effectiveness of our operations, we will look into adding other sources. We will also have continual fundraising projects on many different levels.
You have an interesting program for seniors to be involved in your school, what is that all about?
A: We will have 25 couples on each campus who will serve as surrogate grandparents. These will be folks who might not have any family and have struggled financially. I believe it’s important for children to be able to relate to seniors and learn respect for their elders.
What type of fundraising will you be doing to support the operations costs?
A: We will have multiple types of fundraising projects, some obvious such as golf tournaments, auctions, dive trips, music festivals, entertainment events, grant writing, corporate gifting and a many other activities.
What makes this unique is each fundraising activity is designed to create well paying jobs for people around the world.
Do you have plans of adding additional school sites in other countries?
A: I am so glad you asked. I have agreements for Australia, South Africa, Tanzania and many other countries who are in the beginning stages of investigation. The goal, after our 4 year University is built is to launch a school a year around the world.
How can ordinary people become involved in the school?
A: We need volunteers to speak in local communities to inspire service organization to be more proactive with kids at risk; sales people for the auctions and golf tournaments internationally; teacher assistants and just about every possible position necessary to be able to launch and expand the school.
What is your desired / planned outcome? What happens to the kids after the three years?
We will have the 4 year University complete by the time the first classes graduate but they will be encouraged to go to the college of their choice anywhere in the world. If they’re not interested in being college bound, they will already know what kind of businesses they want to pursue due to the entrepreneurial courses.
Is there a ‘pass on’ factor here? Do the kids have to do similar work for other homeless kids when they finish?
We will definitely encourage the children to give back. We will have a team at the school who will be responsible for tracking the students to see what they end up doing. We would of course love to have the students return to guest lecture, as student counsellors and of course we’ll host alumni events.
What inspires you?
I have been driven, as though this project has a life of it’s own. When I talk to others about UBU I get rejuvenated and it inspires me to reach out more to others who can become involved in the school. We have more than 200,000 children in the U.S. who are homeless and have no family. Every time I think about being tired, hungry or cold, all I have to do is think about all of these children and it makes me work just a bit harder to provide for as many of them as possible.
Who is involved in this project – governments, corporations, educational institutions, the UN?
I am so pleased to have the Minister of Human Resources from Belize; the Ambassador to Belize based in Dallas; the largest revenue generating company Belize; a major resort in Belize; an educational accreditation expert; a very well connected grant writing firm from Las Vegas; NextGen educational systems; and so many others who have connections and have gone out of their way to make connections for the school.
How can people get in touch with you?
The website is www.UltimateBusinessUniv.com and my contact information is on the site. My email is Sharyn@UltimateBusinessUniv.com .
Clancy's comment: Mm ... Belize is a beautiful place, and we can only hope it's beauty rubs off on kids who have been at risk. Thanks for sharing the time, Sharyn. Wish you all the best in this venture.