It can be a great experience for students to work—many work on the weekends or get internships during the summer months. But what about students who operate their own business?
As he nears the end of 10th grade, Esa McCants ’25 is reflecting more on his own journey as a small business owner and his plans for the future.
“I’ve always had an interest in fashion design,” explains Esa. “It’s always been what I want to do, what I want to be. And at that time, with the resources I had at the time, it didn’t let me pursue it. The closest thing I had to that creative outlet was jewelry—so I chose to learn jewelry making for my EGIS project.”
During the last year of Middle School, students undertake the Eighth Grade Independent Study (EGIS) project. This is an opportunity for students to deepen their knowledge of subjects they are interested in beyond their school studies. Students will work all year on their projects, culminating in an end product that can be presented to the school during EGIS Night near the end of the school year.
Erin Timmer, Middle School Social Studies teacher, leads the 8th graders on their EGIS projects, and thinks of Esa’s project as a fantastic example of what an EGIS project should be—and how they can grow afterward.
“I always ask the question, ‘What is something that you have always wanted to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do?’” explains Erin. “If you want to learn to cook, or sew, or code, or solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded—here’s your chance.”
Esa points to their 8th grade EGIS project as the beginning of their business Vitality Gems.
“After EGIS night, people kept walking over to me being like, ‘Oh, are these for sale?’ ‘Can I buy them?’ And I was hesitant at first, but eventually I was like—you might as well! By the end of the week, I had maybe two bracelets left.”
What started as a school project gradually morphed into a small business. And as a small business owner, Esa was responsible for everything. He found gems and wires, made the jewelry, listed it online, marketed each piece, handled shipping and payments—everything from sourcing materials to final sale! While Esa spent time on it during the transition summer between Middle School and Upper School, it wasn’t until mid-way through 9th grade that the business started to feel like more than a hobby.
“Not to brag, but I’ve been pretty successful!” Esa says with a laugh. “Friends and teachers kept asking me about it, so I started spending more time on it, and started taking it more seriously. And I’ve also been having a lot of conversations with myself about business recently. In college, do I want to pursue fashion, or marketing, or business? Do I see myself as a CEO or a creative director? So I thought BizEx would help figure out my dream.”
The Business Experiential Learning Program at AFS—referred to as BizEx—was designed to address those very questions. Through a series of intentional conversations and workshops with entrepreneurs, CEOs, accountants, and others across a number of different business areas, students get a first-hand glimpse of all the different possibilities the business world has to offer.
“We want students to develop a sense of whether a career in business is a path they want to pursue, and if so, the many ways there are to follow that path to a career,” explains Adena Dershowitz, Director of the Center for Experiential Learning at AFS. “It expands their understanding about what it means to have a career in business, deepens their knowledge of the responsibilities and day-to-day tasks of those that work in different roles, and gives them connections with people in our community who can mentor them.”
For Esa, the program has been helpful in learning more about direct-to-consumer marketing and how to make connections.
“Before, I’d just post my Instagram story—‘BTW just to let you all know, new launch!’” jokes Esa. “But now I make videos to accompany the posts that explain who I am, and I’ll put my business card in my posts, and I always plug my own business when I meet new people. I want to keep it professional, but still have fun with it.”
“I take my faith very seriously, so these crystals are very important to me as an expression of my spirituality. I have so much to say about my business. I feel like I’m always talking about it, but it’s because I’m really proud of everything I’ve been able to do with it. And whatever happens, I’m definitely going to keep going.”