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Centennial High School's Virtual Enterprise teams dominate national competitions

When Centennial High School students were brainstorming what might be a successful business idea last summer, they focused on something that everyone can use a lot more of in this stressful era of COVID: mental wellness.

Jordan Rasmussen said the timing seemed right to offer customers services like nature walks and meditation classes and products like weighted blankets and aromatherapy diffusers. And that's how the simulated company Absideon was born.

No actual money will change hands in this venture, but the seniors in Jaci Elliott Newby's virtual business class are doing a lot of the work that actual business owners do. Rasmussen is the CEO, and other students head up departments like Human Resources, Finance, Marketing and IT.

"They have to think through the whole business even if it's not happening," Newby said.

It's all part of Virtual Enterprises, a program Centennial High School has historically excelled at, even in this year where most of the work is being done virtually.

"This year is a bit of a challenge," she said. "It's harder to do the work if you're not in person."

Students have had to collaborate, write business plans, hold management meetings, build an app, learn how to do accounting on QuickBooks and even attend monthly "trade shows" with other Virtual Enterprise businesses — all over Zoom.

But Centennial has continued its streak of success: Rossana Weitekamp, a spokeswoman for Virtual Enterprise, notes that Centennial is the only school in the nation to have all four of its teams advance as finalists to national competitions. Those competitions are in finance, marketing, human resources and QuickBooks, which will be held mid-April. 

Last year, Centennial's team also qualified for nationals to be held in New York City. But like everything else, it was canceled when COVID-19 hit.

This year the different rounds of competitions have gone on in a virtual format, and students have enjoyed it.

Russell Sprague, Absideon's chief financial officer, is in charge of the department that handles payroll, bills and QuickBooks. He said the judges' questions make him think about the work they're doing in a different way. He's learned a lot about how businesses function.

"I really like the competition," Sprague said. "It's cool getting questions you don't think about."

Lauren James, advertising specialist, works on the marketing team. They have a website, Instagram, newsletter and YouTube that features podcasts and commercials. She's proud of the work her team has done over the past year.

"It's exciting to do it as a team," she said. "We've worked hard."

Every year Newby tells her students that it's their choice to do well, and this year's group has stepped up. The students say they work well together and push each other to do their best.

"We are all competitive," said Rasmussen.

The students said that they've come away with skills and talents — some they could put on a resume and some less tangible.

Ronald Reynoso, the director of technology, learned how to build an app with the coding language Adobe XD. There's not even a competition for the app — not this year anyway — but he excitedly rattles off the functionality the app will offer: relaxing music to stream, live classes, recordings of classes, a store to buy Absideon's products and support groups to connect with during these troubled times.

Even in a virtual format, students must present their business plans to judges. It requires practice with public speaking and a little bit of courage. Newby said she always has students who come back and are thankful for the experience Virtual Enterprise gave them in helping them get over their shyness.

Emma Elenes, marketing assistant, has seen the benefits already.

"It's made me come out of my shell," she said.