By James Chen

Ms. Trisha Kawasaki is an 8th grade teacher at Monterey Highlands School (Monterey Park, CA) who teaches the Universal Access class, where she helps her students become college and career ready. To supplement the students’ learning, Ms. Kawasaki invited Operation HOPE and Mr. James Chen into her classroom.

Through Operation HOPE’s Business in a Box Academy, students complete a two-phase program that first teaches basic financial literacy and second, provides a course in entrepreneurship training.

Operation HOPE’s program is common core aligned as students have the opportunity to apply and extend prior knowledge of their classroom learning (math, reading, writing, speaking and listening skills) to a real-world context of formulating a business idea and pitching to investors. Thanks to WayPoint Homes, we were able to establish an Academy at Monterey Highlands.

The first phase, Banking On Our Future, explains the basic concepts and importance of budgeting, understanding basic bank products & services, power of credit and investments. Students even put on a humorous play about the car buying process and how important a credit score is when purchasing a new car.

The second phase provides a step-by-step walkthrough for students to start their own business. Students develop a business idea based off their strengths or hobbies and formulate a business plan that includes a sales and marketing strategy. Finally, the student businesses pitch their business plan to a panel of judges (a la Shark Tank for kids) and the Top 3 winners qualify for a chance at $500 in startup grant money each!

The culminating Pitch Competition requires students to demonstrate command of mathematical and language arts conventions to coherently deliver a persuasive and informative presentation of their findings and supporting evidence.

In the end, the Top Winners were:

1st Place: The Fit Kit: Tiffany Lai, Kaitlyn Thai, Annie Wu & Victoria Yip

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2nd Place: One For One: Timothy Chuman, Kayleigh Lien, Brandon Shinyama, Sabrina Sy & Logan Tanaka

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3rd Place: Forever Young: Manuel Holguin & Eric Xue

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Thanks to Samantha Sineni, Social Media Manager at Operation HOPE, she live tweeted the competition to give our followers an inside look at how it works. People watching along could see photos of the students presenting, along with samples of the pitches such as tag lines and mission statements.

Here are some great commentaries from all the stakeholders regarding this program and experience:

“We enjoy obstacles, and this business project definitely challenged us both mentally and physically. However, the difficulty of the journey only made the satisfaction of the success stronger.”- The Fit Kit Team

“This opportunity gave us a chance to give back to our community, as well as, learn new skills.  One for One has shown us how to work with others and each other. We have done many new and exciting things, such as, design a website and pitch our business plan in front of a panel of judges.” – Sabrina Sy, One For One“This opportunity gave us good insight on the business world. It was tiring but the hard work was worth it.”- Eric Xue, Forever Young

“I was impressed with the confidence the students had and the well thought-out strategies they presented. It’s amazing to see eight graders with long term career goals and passion for bringing new ideas to the table.” – Samantha Sineni, Social Media Manager, Operation HOPE

“This is truly a once in a lifetime experience for 8th grade students. Opportunities like these provide students with the confidence to aim high and persevere at a very young age.” – Trisha Kawasaki, Teacher, Monterey Highlands

“I am really proud of all the students who took part in this program. Public speaking is the number one fear in this world and these students bravely pitched their business idea to a panel of eight judges, teachers, and peers. The students demonstrated their understanding about basic business concepts and persuaded the panel of judges to select them as winners.” – James Chen, Program Manager, Operation HOPE

Participating Student Businesses:

1. Forever Young: Manuel Holguin & Eric Xue | Aloe Vera Products
2. Dawn of Reign: Hannah Won | Science Fiction | Fantasy Book
3. The Fit Kit: Tiffany Lai, Kaitlyn Thai, Annie Wu & Victoria Yip | DVD Workout Exercises for Kids
4. Clever Grow: Melanie Aguilar, Monse Flores & Tiffany Neth | Tutoring Program
5. Sugar Over Salt: Jaci Fernandez, Jasmine Lao & Vivian Padilla | Baked Goods
6. Ace Bookmarks: Felicia Irawan | Custom Bookmarks
7. One For One: Timothy Chuman, Kayleigh Lien, Brandon Shinyama, Sabrina Sy & Logan Tanaka | Tutoring Program


1. Dr. Gary Gonzalez, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services
2. Dr. Debbie Kotani, Principal,
3. Dr. Linda Nakagawa, Instructional Specialist
4. Ms. Maria Pena, Teacher
5. Josephine Caballero, Office Staff
6. Samantha Sineni, Social Media Manager, Operation HOPE
7. Brian Velsaquez, Banker, Wells Fargo Bank
8. Jack KN Tsai, Tech Angel Investor & Entrepreneur