Rebel Ventures’ partnership with the School District of Philadelphia
Imagine: You are a high school student in Philadelphia and last month every public school in the city received a delicious, healthy product that you helped conceive, develop, and bring to market. Pretty incredible, right? This is the Rebel Ventures story.
When Jarrett Stein became a nutrition teacher after graduating from college he quickly realized that he was not the ideal messenger to persuade youth to eat more fruits and vegetables. But, he was smart enough to listen to the students and trust them to become stakeholders in their own education. “We need healthier snacks in school,” they told him.
“I’m not a huge fan of rules so we threw out the old curriculum and made a kitchen in the classroom,” said Jarrett. “The students started making snacks and selling them to their friends.”
As the students continued to experiment with new recipes and see the popularity of their snacks grow among peers, Jarrett encouraged them to continue to take the lead of their own education, specifically when it comes to nutrition and healthy eating. He also realized the power of peer influence and wanted to find a way to continue to affirm the “power, potential, energy, and creativity high school students have,” he said.
The result: Rebel Ventures, a youth-powered company that “sells affordable products that create healthier communities” (https://www.rvcrew.com/about/).
In January, every public school in Philadelphia — around 260 schools — received Rebel Crumbles, a new product from the staff of high-school students driving operations at Rebel Ventures. (The crumble is a healthy cake-like product that meets all of the nutritional guidelines by the School District, as well as the students’ expectations for “healthy deliciousness.”)
Not only is this a huge opportunity for the students handling the everyday operations of the enterprise, but this contract was also an opportunity for the young entrepreneurs to gain first-hand experience about goal-setting and prioritizing tasks.
“We have a model based on ten values and we go back to these values all the time,” said Jarrett. The students use the following values to guide their decisions:
- Youth Power
- Professional Play
- Radical Creativity
When the students were thinking about the new opportunity with the School District, they were empowered to consider these values and embrace the stress, tension and unknowns that come with making tough decisions and thinking about the growth of their enterprise.
And the same time, the youth were hand-making another product, Rebel Bars — a granola bar. Jarrett invited the youth to ask themselves, “Can we do both?” The answer: no. The students agreed that they had to focus on the School District contract and begin to consider how they will fulfill the ambitious order of Rebel Crumbles. “We don’t want to grow just for the sake of growth without first being intentional and ensuring that we maintain quality as we grow,” said Jarrett. Further, even though this is a concern that Jarrett thinks about, he is also adamant about inviting the youth into these conversations and decisions. Throughout our conversation, he continues to affirm that Rebel Ventures is all about youth power.
For Jarrett, the value of youth power is something Rebel Ventures and the School District hold in common.
He first reached out to the District when he was a nutrition teacher. “Being a rebellious guy, I had been in contact with them throughout my career — friendly contact.” Eventually, when Jarrett introduced the idea of getting Rebel Bars into the schools, they were ready to support the work that Rebel Ventures was doing.
Because they were unable to find a manufacturer to make the granola bars at scale, they pivoted and started the year and a half process of developing and testing a new product, Rebel Crumbles. The youth were committed to making a product that was both healthy and delicious.
With support from the District, the Rebel Ventures crew kept dreaming big with the realization that tens of thousands of students would soon enjoy their product. Shipments of Rebel Crumbles will be sent out every two weeks.
Students also conduct tastings of their products with elementary school kids. “It’s a great learning experience for everybody,” said Jarrett. “The high school students come into the school and they are these heroic role models who arrive with both food and a story.” Rebel Ventures continues to work to build capacity to increase these one-on-one interactions. Jarrett expressed that its easier to get students to eat the healthy products if other youth are introducing it as something that they made.
Rebel Ventures creates an avenue for students to have an impact on their peers and their schools, but it also creates an encouraging atmosphere where students can learn how to apply their skills and creativity to the myriad responsibilities of running a business. One student, Kevin, a graduate the program, said:
“When I got involved with Rebel Ventures it was like field practice. I was learning how to run things and it helped me grow a business mindset. I now identify myself as an entrepreneur.”
Rebel Ventures is an 501(c)3 PA nonprofit corporation. We are a social enterprise engaging youth in leadership and entrepreneurship. We develop and distribute products (healthy deliciousness) directly with and for kids in our community. We are supported by Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Our products and projects are designed, tested, and evaluated in partnership with students, staff, and parents at the Netter Center’s K-12 University Assisted Community Schools in West Philadelphia. Every year undergraduate and graduate students and alumni, as well as staff and faculty from the University of Pennsylvania work with Rebel Ventures as mentors and learners through Netter Center sponsored Academically Based Community Service courses and other pathways. Learn more at https://www.rvcrew.com/rebel-values/