Top teacher: Geneva High teacher gives students real world experience in virtual economy classes

  • Business education teacher Jamie Dunlap teaches a Virtual Enterprise class at Geneva High School. "Everything the students do is part of a real virtual economy," Dunlap says. "But the products they are buying or selling are not real."

      Business education teacher Jamie Dunlap teaches a Virtual Enterprise class at Geneva High School. "Everything the students do is part of a real virtual economy," Dunlap says. "But the products they are buying or selling are not real." Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
By Dave Heun
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted2/8/2022 6:00 AM

Students in one of business teacher Jamie Dunlap's classes at Geneva High School have an important task during the daily noon hour -- leasing beachfront property available on a private island to potential customers across the country or overseas.

It's a lofty business for any leasing company, let alone a group of high school students in an advanced business course. But this is what happens when students engage in a virtual economy, learning what it would be like to get hired and play a key role at a company conducting digital business online.

 
Jamie Dunlap of Algonquin teaches a Virtual Enterprise class Jan. 25 at Geneva High School.
  Jamie Dunlap of Algonquin teaches a Virtual Enterprise class Jan. 25 at Geneva High School. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Dunlap has been in charge of Geneva High School's Virtual Enterprises classes for the past eight years, earning accolades from the Virtual Enterprise International organization that oversees the virtual economy world in which students work through the VE bank and interact with other schools that participate in the program to buy or sell any number of products or services.

"Everything the students do is part of a real virtual economy," Dunlap said about this year's class choosing to be part of the property leasing "company" in her classroom.

"But the products they are buying or selling are not real."

In the VE world, students are "interviewed and hired" when walking into Dunlap's first class. They are assigned certain tasks within certain departments that are marked in her classroom for the virtual company.

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The Geneva students interact with more than 500 other "firms" in the U.S. and overseas representing classes that are in the same VE program.

Geneva, entering VE trade shows as the Area304 team, last year earned first place honors in the Great Lakes region online trade show competition for best sales pitch and best e-commerce website. The team also landed an honorable mention in the Elevator Pitch competition, submitting a 60- to 90-second video pitching the company and enticing investors.

It confirms that quality work is coming out of Dunlap's classroom, a former computer lab that has been converted into the VE business.

Jamie Dunlap has been a business education teacher at Geneva High School for 11 years. Teaching is a second career for her.
  Jamie Dunlap has been a business education teacher at Geneva High School for 11 years. Teaching is a second career for her. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Dunlap views the task of conducting VE classes at the high school as a high point in what she admits has been a short teaching career of 14 years, with 11 of those at Geneva High School. It is especially rewarding, considering Dunlap is a 58-year-old educator.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When I tell people I have been teaching only 14 years, they are expecting to see a younger person, but I am definitely on the older side," she said. "But, honestly, I wouldn't have been as effective as a teacher if I started younger, as this has been like a second career for me and just a fabulous ride."

After being caught in budget cuts at Dundee-Crown and Sycamore high schools, Dunlap parlayed her college education and past experience in apparel design and family consumer teaching into a full-time job offer at Geneva High School.

"It's been amazing," Dunlap, a resident of Algonquin, noted. "I tell people that Geneva was like being in a Disneyland of education because everyone was open to new ideas and so supportive of what you wanted to do.

"I've had the freedom to do some pretty amazing things with these kids," she added.

The high school's VE program came about after Dunlap had lunch with Principal Tom Rogers nine years ago at a program introducing new teachers, one of whom she was mentoring.

"I had been trying to learn about VE for the better part of a year after learning about it from a colleague at another school," Dunlap said.

Rogers had been doing the same, taking an interest in VE International after some of his friends in business circles convinced him it would be a great addition to the high school's curriculum.

"At that lunch, Tom asked me what I knew about VE, so I said, 'Let me tell you!" Dunlap said with a laugh.

Rogers jumped at the chance to add VE, asking Dunlap if she could oversee such a project. She said yes, making Rogers, as he put it, "feel like I hit the jackpot."

"Jamie was always good with that real-world experience, so she was the natural person to ask to run this program, and we were thrilled that she was just able to take the reins and run with it," Rogers added.

Jamie Dunlap, business education teacher at Geneva High School, is the Daily Herald's top teacher for February 2022.
Jamie Dunlap, business education teacher at Geneva High School, is the Daily Herald's top teacher for February 2022. - Courtesy of Jamie Dunlap

Even though Dunlap acknowledges she got into education later than most teachers, Rogers sees that as a plus.

"When she came to us, it seemed like we were getting a seasoned veteran," Rogers noted. "We are thrilled with the way the timeline worked out, and we have really benefited from Jamie being in that department."

Whether her students advance in VE education or eventually become part of, or even operate an actual business firm, Dunlap knows she has created a special bond.

"This is always the hardest class to say goodbye to in the spring because a lot of these kids I have had in several courses during their high school career," Dunlap said.

"When you see how they have developed, especially in this class, they are just a blast to be around and I love them."

• • •

Tips from a great teacher

• Always reflect on what you are doing. See where you can improve, grow, change, be more effective.

• Find a good, positive mentor and surround yourself with positive and supportive colleagues.

• Listen to your students and get to know them. Having up to 100 new students each semester, it is sometimes difficult to truly learn about them, but it is so important to try to understand them and know that they so often are dealing with a lot outside the classroom.

• Learn to let go ... let the students take the helm whenever possible.

• Laugh often.

• Continually remind yourself WHY you got into this profession, as education can be like riding a roller coaster!

• Never get too comfortable; always challenge yourself and challenge your students.

• Never stop learning!

• • •

Curriculum vitae: Jamie Dunlap, business education teacher at Geneva High School

Occupation: Business education teacher, Geneva High School

Age: 58

Residence: Algonquin

Education: Prospect High School (grew up in Arlington Heights). Started at Iowa State University in apparel design, ended at Columbia College of Missouri with a B.S. in business administration and accounting. Master's in secondary business education at Roosevelt University. Certified in: Business, Marketing and Computer Education; Family and Consumer Science; Consumer Education National Board Certified Teacher

Past experience:

• 2010-2011: Teacher, Sycamore High School

• 2008-2010: Teacher, Dundee-Crown

• 2005-2007: Site supervisor, District 211 "Read to Learn" adult literacy program

• 2005-2007: Business owner, Irish dance solo dressmaking

• 1996-2007: Business manager, Mesne Management Corp., Algonquin

• 1987-1992: Owner, Jamie Lynn's Cakes

• 1985-1987: Real estate sales associate, Arlington Heights

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