Keith Weigelt, the Marks-Darivoff Family Professor in Wharton’s Management Department, decided to do something about a gap that he sees in American education—the absence of a business curriculum for high schools. Although some schools offer accounting or other business-related classes, no comprehensive package of instruction exists to prepare teenagers for college courses or their professional lives. Weigelt reasoned that such a curriculum would be especially useful in schools serving underprivileged neighborhoods near the Penn campus.
“I got all of the approvals, so I just went to West Philadelphia High School and started teaching,” he says.
When the class started four years ago, it was an after-school program. After two years, West Philadelphia High School slotted Weigelt into the regular school day. He taught decision-making, negotiation and sales presentation, and he brought the students to Wharton to impress upon them the value of a college education. At present, his financial literacy course has been taught at three high schools and two elementary schools.
“I want to build on Wharton’s legacy as the first business school for undergrads by being the first to offer a business curriculum for high schools,” he says.
Working in inner-city schools also is a way for Weigelt to pursue his long-standing commitment to social justice. As a young man, Weigelt was involved in the civil rights movement.
“I’ve been following the disparity between the wealth of blacks and wealth of whites since the 1960s,” he says. “The disparity has been growing. I decided to ask if there is there anything we can do about it.”
Sherryl Kuhlman, director of the Wharton Program for Social Impact and the Wharton-Netter Center Community Partnership, has assisted Weigelt in translating his ideals into action.
“Keith is incredibly dedicated,” Kuhlman says. “This is his vision, and he is leading the charge.”
With help from his high-school students, Weigelt is fine-tuning his curriculum with the hopes that it can be used at any high school in the United States, or even around the world. His class at University City High School also built a Facebook page and a website for the venture.
“The students know the language kids speak and what kids want much better than I do,” Weigelt says.
The curriculum will involve six courses. He has completed and piloted four: financial literacy, entrepreneurship, decision-making, and negotiation and sales presentation. Two more—leadership development and marketing—are in the works for next school year. When the curriculum is introduced to a new school, Weigelt plans to teach the classes the first year while teachers observe. The next year, the school’s faculty will take over.
Wharton undergraduates have assisted Weigelt with his work in the high schools.
“The undergrads are very valuable. The more you can get one-to-one relationships, the better students learn,” Weigelt says.
Wharton students want to be part of ventures like this, Kuhlman adds.
“Our students want to learn in the community. They want to make a difference,” she says.
—By Robert Preer