On Dec. 16, students in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District gathered at the Brookside School, in Merrick, for the district’s second annual Business Challenge. Nearly 60 students from the district’s three high schools took part in competition in five categories: human resources, retail marketing, tourism, entrepreneurship and sports marketing.
Randomly chosen teams of two or three student participants — one from each school — were given a category, a related business scenario and 20 minutes to prepare a presentation for a panel of judges comprising school administrators, elected officials, college representatives and local business leaders. At the end, one winning group was selected in each category.
The scenarios students were given included the retail marketing for a fictitious “cat café,” tourism on Long Island and a human-resources campaign for an architectural firm. “It’s really great,” Mark Melkonian, assistant principal of Sanford H. Calhoun High School, said of the challenge. “It’s really about critical thinking. It’s about being professional and working together with kids they don’t even know — and that’s business, right?”
The nearly full-day event featured a keynote speech by Eric Niremberg, founder and president of ClearVision Wealth Management, an investment firm in Bellmore, whose son is a Calhoun graduate.
“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur — without even knowing it,” Niremberg told the students. “I’m the kind of guy who just jumps into things, and whatever happens, happens. You will learn from your mistakes and move on.”
Each group of students was given 10 minutes to make its presentation, which was followed by five minutes of questions from the judges, who challenged the students to think creatively about their scenarios.
When the students weren’t working in their groups, they had the chance to walk around a college fair organized by seven local colleges outside of the auditorium at Brookside. “We ask the colleges to give us information, like fun facts, and we put that together in a sort of scavenger hunt, and we have the students complete that scavenger hunt,” Melkonian explained. “It’s a win-win, because ultimately the colleges want to advertise, and it’s good for our kids, because they can network and meet admissions people.”
Although the challenge was intended for students in Bellmore-Merrick’s business classes, it welcomed those from other programs as well. The culinary arts program CHAMPS, from John F. Kennedy High School, helped serve lunch to the attendees, and orchestra students from Calhoun provided background music throughout the event. Wellington C. Mepham High’s broadcasting program, Bellmore-Merrick Broadcasting, covered the event.
“It’s very inclusive of everyone,” Melkonian said. “Even though we’re inviting students for the business piece, we’re also inviting every specialty of each high school to contribute to this event.”
This was the second year the high schools’ business department hosted the challenge, having taken a hiatus last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It loses a little bit of its purpose when it’s virtual,” Melkonian said. “This event is not conducive for that.”
This year, Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads served as a judge, and offered a word of advice to the participating students. “Everybody’s got gifts and talents that we’re all given — some of us are good at sports, some of us are good at math, some of us are good at writing,” Rhoads said. “Whatever it is that you’re good at, if you can find a way to make a living doing that, you have it. That’s the key to success.
“Whether you win or not, though, the important thing is that you gave it your all and tried,” Rhoads added. “Make sure that you use this as a springboard to follow your dreams, and I know that you’re going to accomplish some amazing things.”
Unlike outside business competitions that high schools attend, Melkonian noted that it was beneficial to keep this challenge within the district, because it fosters a sense of community. With the hopes of expanding both the high schools’ business departments and the challenge in the future, the event served as a demonstration of what students are learning, and capable of producing.
“We are building,” Melkonian said of the business program. “We want to get bigger and better. This is what this is for, to shed light on the good stuff we’re doing. We want to connect the students and show the colleges what we’re doing, and create that bridge.”