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Back to school and back to learning

Editorial Team

6 min read
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

It’s officially September! Millions of students, teachers, and staff are back in school—the third school year to be affected by Covid-19. Here at Clover, we’re reflecting on the immeasurable value of education during this time and celebrating the small businesses that champion education.

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Education is a core mission of many small businesses. And many of the SMB owners we’ve featured view education as a vital component of their work. While September represents a return to the classroom, we’re looking beyond traditional institutions of learning and highlighting some educational initiatives that these five small businesses are facilitating right in their own communities.

The School – Creative Arts Education

Lindsay Duncan and Krystal Ferguson love teaching subjects not typical to K-12 education. The co-owners of The School – Creative Arts Education bring their backgrounds in performance—theater, dance, aerial arts, gymnastics, and parkour—into the classroom. 

“We got a taste of the industry, the way it actually is. And that’s what we wanted to bring to the kids. Give them access to industry professionals coaching with real-world experience in a studio setting, ” share owners Duncan and Ferguson.

When the transition to virtual classes became a reality across the world, Duncan and Ferguson knew they needed to offer high-quality, competitive virtual education to keep their business open. In doing so, they carefully balanced the individual needs of their students with their bottom line. 

“We know that virtual classes don’t work for everybody, so we really wanted to provide flexibility to our clients. If a student was doing an in-studio class when we shut down, we gave them an option to put their account on hold, take a credit, or take a refund if they needed it. There are so many options for kids’ programming in the virtual space, [but] we offer something you can’t get by using an app or watching a YouTube video—a personal connection with an actual dance teacher.”

ABC Fitness Connection

The folks at ABC Fitness Connection use their platform as a community resource to address wellness issues beyond physical health. Owner, Tammy L. S. Wright, explains the impetus behind their Power Women Initiative: ”In our business we focus on the physical aspects of wellness, but addressing these issues often brings up psychological barriers we all face when taking care of ourselves…I wanted to help women not only physically, but also mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and environmentally.” 

Women, in particular, Wright believes, need space to explore their power and strength. Guest speakers join her to provide educational resources on a variety of topics: social, financial, emotional, environmental, intellectual, and physical. “But it’s not just a workshop,” she stresses. “It’s active tasks that help us heal and strengthen. The goal is to finish the year with a celebration because we’ve grown in each one of those dimensions.”

Cupcake Collection

Mignon Francois, owner and founder of the Cupcake Collection, doesn’t easily forget her journey to becoming a nationally-renowned baker. Through sharing her story and her pathway to success and influence, she gives back to programs that support education. Francois serves on the board of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, which provides mentoring and scholarships to young people in business—a program that she herself went through.

“I felt it was important to give back to some of the programs that have helped me,” she shares. “They taught me the things I needed to know—what a profit-and-loss statement was and how to work with balance sheets and things like that. Now I extend my hand to help so that other people can learn.”

Francois also funds scholarships at Tennessee State University. She is still in awe of being able to support young students whom she’s never even met.

“I always want to help people discover their own entrepreneurship story,” Francois explains. “For me, that’s what success looks like: being a lighthouse in the community to show others what good business looks like and illuminating the way for others. It’s so important for entrepreneurs to know what they can do if they just believe.”

Unspoken Smiles Foundation

Jean Paul Laurent, founder of the Unspoken Smiles Foundation, describes himself as a ”social entrepreneur.” Part of his work providing access to oral hygiene care in underserved communities includes educating young dental professionals through a leadership council. 

“[Our] leadership council focuses on regular participation, providing for young professionals to contribute cash, resources, or their expertise on a monthly basis,” shares Laurent. “We expect this membership to grow over the next couple years. We’ve already added a lot of young members to our roster.”

Laurent saw a silver-lining when schools were shuttered last spring—the opportunity to connect these young dental professionals with children on a much larger scale. He explains: “Right now we are beginning the process of regional scaling with the long-term goal of virtual classrooms that can disseminate our message and help improve the oral health and status of millions of children. [We seek] to connect career role models/Fellows over video chat to facilitate inclusive learning opportunities for children and youth during this period of sudden and unprecedented educational disruption. As parents are now forced to look at options for teaching and learning approaches, Unspoken Smiles has developed a more open and flexible virtual oral health education for the future.”

Harlem Doggie Day Spa

For Brian Taylor, owner of Harlem Doggie Day Spa, conducting business virtually wasn’t a viable option. Early in the pandemic, the dog grooming industry was overwhelmed by the simultaneous influx of pet adoptions and shutdown of most in-person services. While Taylor was able to maintain one-on-one grooming with contactless payment and curbside pickup, he wanted to do more—particularly to support the Black community of groomers and pet owners. So, he launched the Pandemic Pup Relief Tour.

All in all, the tour covered six cities, enlisted 80 local, volunteer groomers and trimmers, and provided free grooming services to over 600 dogs. 

“Pet grooming and pet care are industries not traditionally associated with Black professionals in this country,” Taylor explains. “In addition to providing the minority of Black groomers with more of a platform, we are also hoping to reach out to more Black kids who don’t know that there’s a career for them in the animal industry.”

In assembling a diverse team of volunteers, Taylor noted that the variety of experience levels—from 20-year groomers to newcomers—was beneficial for all. 

“There was a lot of continual education going on where the experienced groomers would help the less-experienced groomers technically, or give them business advice on everything from marketing to pricing structures,” says Taylor. “The opportunity to teach, share and learn was definitely one of the highlights of the tour that inspired a culture of team spirit and community. That was a statement we really wanted to make with this tour. ”

As we celebrate the classroom this month, join Clover in thanking all our merchants who support and provide educational resources to their communities. We’re grateful for the essential work you do!

Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life stories of small businesses in action all over the country. Want to be featured in this series? Fill out our questionnaire, and if we can include you in a future interview cycle, we’ll send you an invitation! 

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