Education

Students Offer Solutions for Restaurant’s Challenges

COLUMBIANA, Ohio — Taking on a project with just weeks left in the school year, a group of students and staff at Columbiana High School partnered with a Mexican restaurant to create a customer satisfaction program and learn valuable problem-solving skills.

In March, Juan Vazquez, general manager of El Vallarta in Boardman, invited students to his restaurant where he explained how he wants to improve the customer experience, get new customers in the door and increase the number of returning customers. Vazquez challenged the students by tasking them with coming up with ehree evidence-based proposals in just four weeks.

The project is part of WIldfire Education, a new program at Columbiana High School founded last year by Cleveland educator Doris Korda. The teaching methodology “empowers students through deep learning by solving rigorous challenges from organizations in their community,” she explains.

Students in the high school’s Broadcast English class worked in teams, each tasked with creating solutions to the issues Vazquez presented.

One group looked at the restaurant’s target audience, and how far people are willing to travel to eat at a restaurant. “We showed him the area within 10 miles with the least competition from other Mexican restaurants in the area, and we thought he should focus on advertising and marketing to those people,” said Paige Herbert, a senior.

A second team focused on a loyalty and rewards program, while another team looked at environment and the psychology behind environment — how factors such as lighting and color factor into customer experience.

“It was challenging because you don’t just look up the topic you’re doing. You have to look up another topic that leads to another topic to help your main topic,” said Zach Philips, also a senior.

Patricia Missos teaches the Creative Entrepreneurship and Tech and Business classes at Columbiana High School. In the past, she’s had students work with businesses, some as interns, but this often required a substantial time commitment by the business.

Using Korda’s method, students took three hours of Vazquez’s time, 90 minutes the day he presented his business issues, then 90 minutes when students made their presentations. “Kids had to do research on their own, we didn’t say what direction to go into, they had to figure everything out on their own,” said Missos.

Students presented their projects mid-way to Korda when she made a special stop at Columbiana High School. During her visit, she offered tips and suggestions about their presentations, and encouraged them to develop more evidence-based solutions.

On April 5, students presented their findings to Vazquez. He said the presentations were good, and noted some changes he can easily make at his restaurant based on the findings.

Juan Vazquez listens to the students present their projects.

Korda also came for the presentations, and said she was impressed with the growth students made in a matter of a few weeks.

“What they’re developing and using are the same skills needed to solve problems that don’t have answers in the back of the book, and are real for someone in the community” she said.

The four-week project also taught students valuable lessons about working in teams, the importance of research and forced many to face their fear of public speaking.

Columbiana High School learned about Wildfire Education in last fall during a continuing education session at Youngstown State University. YSU and the high school shared the costs for teachers to travel to Columbus in January for three days of Wildfire Education training.

Wildfire Education will be incorporated into the school’s Creative Entrepreneurship class next year. Students will work on a project for a business each nine weeks in the semester. Missos and her colleague, Alana Rivello, are seeking businesses to partner with next school year.

SOURCE: Mahoning County Educational Service Center.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.