NFTE Teacher Danny Gray Wins 2016 Golden Apple Award

NFTE Teacher Danny Gray Wins 2016 Golden Apple Award

In the NFTE Chicago Metro office we take education seriously, and that is in no small part because we have each spent time at the head of the classroom. For this reason we know exactly what faces our NFTE teachers daily. Teaching is a challenging job for many reasons, but chief among them is that each student is going to bring their own lives into the classroom. It takes a certain determination to meet each student where they are, and to find a path to success no matter the obstacles.

We know that teachers tirelessly work toward this end and give their all to their students daily, and we could not be more excited or more proud to announce that Mr. Danny Gray, a NFTE teacher at Thornwood High School in South Holland, IL, has received the 2016 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership

Gray_web  Congratulations Mr. Gray!

Mr. Danny Gray is a huge part of the Thornwood community. He is not just a teacher, but also a mentor, a confidant, a person to go to for support. He leads several clubs, including “A Few Good Men”, a club where young men can find support from their male elders. Mr. Gray knows that many of the students in his community don’t have strong support systems when they leave his care, and he has made it his mission to make sure that his students know that there are many opportunities to be successful.

It is clear when talking to his students, that Mr. Gray excels because he approaches their challenges with empathy and reassurance. “I always try to put myself in their shoes, I put their lives first,” he says. This gives the students confidence and actionable tools to move forward. In speaking with some of his former students, it was evident that they had a strong relationship with their teacher and friend.

“Mr. Gray is the reason I am doing some of the things I am doing today. He pushed me when I was in high school. He pulled me out of class and told me I wasn’t doing my best and that he know I could do, a lot of things, I don’t even remember what he said, but I believed him, and said, ‘yeah, I can do that’”.

Mr. Gray naturally approaches his students in ways that embody the entrepreneurial mindset – he truly collaborates with his students, he problem solves, and he innovates. Maybe that is why he is so successful as a NFTE teacher.

5 years ago Mr. Gray began teaching NFTE’s entrepreneurship curriculum with only one section, and he was so passionate about the course, that he advocated to offer the program to more students. He now teaches NFTE exclusively, reaching about 100 students annually.

“NFTE inspires kids to want to be successful, and gives them skills that can be utilized beyond the classroom. I am a little biased, but I know that this class, is by far, the best business class ever. I have taught several, and there is no comparison. The skills taught in the NFTE curriculum are amazing! The resources are amazing! The professional development is amazing! And OMG, the business competition that the kids prepare for, it’s amazing!”

In his time with NFTE, 2 teams of students from Thornwood High School have advanced to the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. During the 2011 school year, Jesus Fernandez and Teheeb Okenla built their NFTE business plan around the idea of creating soccer socks with a built in space for 360° shin guards. Under the guidance of Mr. Gray, they not only advanced to, and won, the National competition but they are currently waiting for the first shipment of their product to arrive from the manufacturer.

We chatted with Jesus and Toheeb about their former teacher’s Golden Apple.

“That’s awesome, that’s absolutely awesome. I am not surprised he would win such an award. I don’t know what other kind of teacher would win. I just can’t think of any teacher that would deserve an award like this more than Mr. Gray. He really, really, really, really deserves it. He works so hard. He works so, so hard. He still contacts us on a regular basis. He cares about his students, and still even when his students don’t believe in themselves that much at first. Definitely a well-deserved award.”

It was clear from the joy in their voices, the enthusiasm of their words, and the success they have seen in their lives, that these two former students not only hold Mr. Gray in high esteem, but also still feel his presence as a positive and guiding force.

So, Mr. Gray, we here at NFTE Chicago Metro THANK YOU for being who you are to your students – our students – and we look forward to all of your, and their, achievements in the years to come.

To learn more about Golden Apple and the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership, visit their website.


Global Young Entrepreneur – Sonya Everett

Global Young Entrepreneur – Sonya Everett

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill reports that 1 in 5 teens, age 13-18 live with a mental health condition (Please access their list of warning signs here). With all our efforts at NFTE to support students thought our curriculum and programming, this is an issue that we cannot expect to impact directly.

Indirectly however, we have our ways 🙂

This year’s NFTE Global Young Entrepreneur from Chicago, Sonya Everett, has developed a nonprofit that seeks to educate young adults by raising awareness of mental health issues. Her program, called You’re Not Alone uses social media and popular online platforms to show teens that there are others having similar experiences of depression and anxiety. When asked about her motivation to develop this program Sonya explains,

“Too many kids live their lives with the thought that their negative experiences are unique and only lived by them. We wanted to give kids the opportunity to meet people like them and see that just because you have a mental illness, it doesn’t mean that it will hold you back.”

Sonya took the NFTE course her senior year at Josephinum Academy, an all girls school dedicated to the advancement of women. Before attending Josephinum, Sonya recalls her high school experience as something she “hated”, but when she got to Josephinum, “everything changed.” Her NFTE Teacher, Renee Vai, was a huge part of that. “I had the MOST AMAZING NFTE teacher to ever walk this earth. Mrs. Vai was my mentor, my teacher, and my friend; she was the most important part of my experience at Josephinum. She taught us the ways of the world and never let us think that we couldn’t do something.”

Though Sonya didn’t pursue the business that she developed with Mrs. Vai in her NFTE class, but what she learned that year brought her to You’re Not Alone. “I never thought I could build a business. I never thought I could take control of my own life and make my own dreams into a reality. NFTE changed that.

NFTE gave me a pen and paper and said ‘write your own story’. So now I do.”

Sonya’s story has brought her to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Global Showcase as Chicago’s Global Youth Entrepreneur of the Year. Last night, she was honored along with Chicago’s Enterprising Educator of the Year, Shawn Sanders.GLobal Showcase Sonya Shawn

The Global Showcase is a great opportunity to publicize You’re Not Alone and bring community to youth mental health. When we asked Sonya what she hopes for her future and the future of You’re Not Alone, she is humble.

“My hopes are simple, I want to save lives. I want to be happy. Helping people makes me happy.”

If you are interested in learning more about You’re Not Alone
you can visit their website at or
the YNA Tumblr at

We cannot stress how proud we are of Sonya and You’re Not Alone.

A huge congratulations from NFTE Chicago!

Enterprising Educator of the Year – Shawn Sanders

Enterprising Educator of the Year – Shawn Sanders

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) 2016 NFTE Global Showcase is an annual event to honor NFTE participants who have embodied excellence in executing our mission. This year’s events features special guests Chelsea Clinton and Troy Carter and aims to celebrate the strides made by entrepreneurs and their supporters worldwide.

While the Global Showcase honors students, volunteers, partners and teachers alike, we can all acknowledge that without our amazing teachers, NFTE would not be able to impact students as significantly.

NFTE teachers are nominated for the distinction of Enterprising Educator by the regional offices, with one being chosen from each locale to receive this honor. This year’s NFTE Chicago Metro Enterprising Educator of the Year is Shawn Sanders of Perspectives Leadership Academy. In her nomination form, NFTE Manager of Programs Steve Iammartino remarks,

“Shawn has always been an amazing advocate of using our volunteer partners in her classroom. She ensures that her students are so well prepared that they are leading the small groups and volunteers are able to focus on giving their expertise.”

NFTE volunteers support classrooms by working directly with students as business plan coaches. In this role, our volunteers visit classrooms throughout the school year and share their business knowledge as they guide students through their business plan development. Students often cite their coaching sessions as the most valuable part of their NFTE experience. It is because of her thorough understanding of the resources available to meet the needs of her classroom that Ms. Sanders is able to propel her classroom to success.

In addition to utilizing volunteer support, Ms. Sanders also has a strong relationship with her students and their shared school community. Perspectives Leadership Academy is located in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Students there face violence in their neighborhoods and a consistent display of economic hardship in their families and community. Ms. Sander’s NFTE program is not simply an entrepreneurship class, but it is an entrepreneurship community, and this is what launches Shawn beyond being just a master teacher of content.

“The students I serve need to have a belief in themselves that they can actually have an idea that is worthy of being a business. They also need the confidence that they can persevere through the process of business development.”

It is clear to us that Ms. Sanders has given her students this confidence, as she has had students in the citywide finals competition each year that she has taught the NFTE course, and we expect to see her there again this year.

Congratulations Ms. Sanders!

Girls with Teacher

Partner Spotlight – Found Chicago

Partner Spotlight – Found Chicago

In the NFTE Chicago office, we happen to be a bunch of dog lovers. So when we realized the potential in a partnership with a local dog rescue and rehabilitation business, we were just a tad bit excited. I mean, look at these pups, how can you not be overcome with joy and excitement!?

Found Chicago is a boarding, training, rescue and rehabilitation, re-homing facility extraordinaire. (Full disclosure, I use them as boarder, know adopted dogs from Found, and am obsessed with their facebook page – Found is the best) As an organization, Found has grown from a small altruistic venture of the folks at Stay, a modern dog hotel, to an independent multifaceted operation in both services provided and business structure.

At its core, Found is an educational organization. They aim to educate dogs with their training programs, they educate owners through guided training classes, and they educate the public on the true potential of every dog through their content on social media and through traditional media outlets. When asked to join forces with NFTE and share their experiences with our students, the excitement was immediate.
We connected with Fabian Romo-Vargas, the Director of Operations at Found. Fabian is a former Chicago Public School student who started wo1455935_1732399950322663_543880170957810049_nrking at Stay, where he worked in the afternoons on a work release program run by Chicago Public Schools. In this program, students with jobs could load their classes in the morning of the school day, and leave midday to go to work. His job was to clean the dogs’ kennels. It was from that job that he realized that he had a passion for a career with dogs, and after high school graduation he continued to work at Stay, funding his own college education and earning a Bachelor’s in Business. When the folks at Stay decided to create Found as it’s own venture, they basically handed the keys to Fabian and told him to drive. It was his journey that solidified our desire to find a partnership in Found. If his high school had hosted our program, he very well could have been one of our students (and an obvious success story at that)!

Fabian joined us this past January for Ideas Week (learn more by reading our Ideas Week post), and has since joined our Board. When asked why he feels so passionately about partnering with NFTE he says,

“I keep education very high in my priorities and the priorities of our communities. NFTE’s entrepreneurship program hits a special place in my heart because I know the uphill battle that is fought by every entrepreneur building a business with zero resources. Managing a business and simultaneously self-funding my education taught me lessons in entrepreneurship that educational programs and business curriculum are not able to articulate, and I want to share that with NFTE.”

We are very thankful to have Fabian and Found in our corner. You all know the age old high schoolers’ question, “but what does that have to do with me?” We have to admit, its a fair question. Many times, out students have a hard time making the mental jump from the huge companies they are familiar with to their own business plans. It is important to us that we present our students with examples of local small businesses that have been started and nurtured to success by people just like them.

At the Ideas Week Rally, Fabian brought his entrepreneurial experiences and his love of dogs to the students. Fabian not only shared his story with our students as a guest speaker, but he also served as judge to the competition that was held that day. In reflection of that role,  Fabian articulated the relationship NFTE builds in the community quite well, “Seeing an entire student body come together and brainstorm their business ideas is inspiring. It is great for students and judges alike. The competition definitely provides a bit of self-reflection-should I be asking myself these questions? ”

As a bonus for all Fabian brought with him fellow trainer and the entrepreneur behind Midnight Circus, Jeff Jenkins and his rescued show dogs June Bug and Rosie. June Bug is kinda famous around here in Chicago, bringing her rags to riches story everywhere from local classrooms and city parks, to the half-time show for the Chicago Bulls. Rosie is new to the stage, fitting right in with our young entrepreneurs taking a risk and getting up there and all doing their best (in case you missed it, enjoy the show)! The students were wowed by the dogs’ obedience and agility and we were able to sneak in our sneaky teachable moment. 


Our students saw first hand, and quite enjoyably, the passions of two entrepreneurs coming to life. They saw two interests that might not be featured in “big business” thriving and making money (Midnight Circus has raised nearly $1,000,000 for the Chicago Parks District). They were introduced to businesses built with social responsibility and diversity of thought from the ground up. They saw humans and pets alike rise above adversity and find success, security, peace and happiness. Whether its dogs, circus performance, or any other little thing, you can make dreams come true, and there are people who are here to help you.

“The people that surround young minds and their ideas will either enable them to make those dreams real, or they will work against them. I want to enable them and their ideas to succeed. I feel that curriculum like this are the future. I look forward to participating in a program that grows and truly succeeds in its goals.”
-Fabian Romo-Vargas of Found Chicago

In our partnership with Found, we feel that we are moving steadily forward toward building a true network of business partners and mentors that represent the full breadth of opportunity here in Chicago – ultimately creating more paths of success for our students.

Thanks Fabian, Jeff, June Bug and Rosie! We are looking forward to all our success together and apart!

Does your dog need a little training? Specialized boarding or daycare? Check out Found’s services here.

Stay tuned for Midnight Circus performances in the parks this summer!


School Profile – Curie High School

School Profile – Curie High School

Guest Post!!

Today’s post is very special for us at NFTE Chicago as we get to feature our first student on the blog!

 photo e58397ad-e7e1-4c9c-a662-3113d0d8bc55_zps9rwrooj9.jpgAndres Palacios, a current NFTE student, is our guest author today with a beautiful piece about his NFTE program at Marie Curie High School on Chicago’s South Side. Andres is a junior who is actively involved in his school community, and is a member of our NFTE Chicago Classroom Ambassador Program (CAP) team.

NFTE Chicago CAP is a program that offers students additional leadership and personal development opportunities outside of the general NFTE curriculum. In his application for the program, Andres identified that he saw CAP as a way to “try new things, develop new skills, and work towards finding [his] place of strength in our world”.

When I first asked Andres if he wanted to write this piece, he admitted that writing for an audience was something new for him that was intimidating, but that he would like to try. We agreed upon a collaborative editing process, and with a very loose set of guidelines he set off to compose his first draft. As it turns out, trying something new really payed off for Andres, because what came of it, was this wonderful piece of writing that we share with you today.

Our Dreams, Our Future

By Andres Palacios

Every neighborhood in Chicago is different; we were raised differently and we have different dreams. Growing up from elementary to high school in my community was great, school was my main priority, and I had many friends who supported me in my academics. But, presently the violence in Chicago has dramatically affected our community as a whole. What does that mean for our future? How will it be affected? I believe it can limit our chances to achieve our dreams. I’ve seen it ruin my closest friends. They started to get involved in unnecessary activity that impacted their future negatively. I stood there watching their dreams going to the graveyard. Their priceless dreams just thrown away. It’s frightening to be around the violence especially around schools. It has gotten to the point that it is hard to walk outside and play with your friends because of violence due to gangs and shootouts. In the past couple months there have been many homicides and mostly the dead are young adults around my community. That makes me feel vulnerable which limits me to achieve my goals. I don’t feel safe when I walk out my door and when walking to my community I don’t feel welcome anymore without getting dirty looks by people who judge if I’m a bad person.

Students can absorb that negative energy and do poorly in their academics, but at Curie High School, where I attend, they did not let that happen. My school made opportunities for students to take advantage of, such as Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE guides students in high schools to have the Entrepreneurial Mindset and learn how to start a business. NFTE brought positive energy, new ways to develop skills, and hope, to our Curie community.

When I was introduced to NFTE in my Entrepreneurship class it was a big change for me. They led me in the right direction to invest in my future. They taught me that if anything goes wrong there is a way to fix it by using the right mindset to find the solution to the problem. The course gave me the feeling of hope of achieving my goals in our community by making it a better place to live. I strongly believe the NFTE course will affect the Curie High School community by bringing students dreams into reality, and by helping them to build their skills to make their dreams come to life.

I interviewed one my fellow classmates who is also taking the NFTE course, his name is Diontae Norwood. I asked about his community and how was it growing up. He responds that is was “full of violence and gangs but my mother always said to do better. My father and uncle were doing drugs, my mother was my role model.” Diontae had to face a greater challenge than I did, but he made his way through the hardships. He mentioned a lot about his mother and auntie who shaped his life to become the man who he is today. His mother and auntie wanted the best for him, he told me that his mother once said “you can end up in two places dead or in prison.” What his mother said gave him a motivation not to do gangs and focus in school. He feels he owes them for being there for him and supporting him. Another question that I asked was how he felt about the violence around our community. He admits, “It’s crazy, we are the product of the community, a product of that. You’ve got to take the positive out from the bad.” Diontae didn’t want to end up like his father and uncle; he used that situation as way to motivate himself to do better.

NFTE guided his dreams into reality. He exclaims, “NFTE guided me to something. I always wanted to do business, and I was exposed to a lot of things. It sculptured me and let me put my ideas to action. My business idea is Dance with Me*; NFTE helped me expose that idea.” This is an example how NFTE affected Diontae’s life. Many students can relate to Diontae’s story and background in our community. When they see how the NFTE course impacts him they can feel confident to take the course to help them also invest in their life. NFTE brings peace to our community because students don’t have to worry about the negativity and learn to turn to positive thoughts to achieve more.

It doesn’t matter where you come from but where you are going.

We all come from different communities and in those communities there are great opportunities like NFTE at Curie High School. NFTE gives us the tools to bring our ideas alive and to change the world by making it a better place through business. In our NFTE project, my brother and I have an idea to manufacture a button-down shirt for workers in manufacturing businesses like Wingfoot that provide protection to the body while being able to stay cool. My dad works at Wingfoot and he always came from work with his skin pores filled with tar and dirt. It is unsafe for workers to be exposed to that. We want our father and his workers to be safe and it worries us that they aren’t. Working on this project helped me gain the perspective that if there is a problem we can fix it, but it takes hard work. I want my dad to come home safe and be able to rely on his uniform to protect him.

NFTE not only touched my life but also Diontae’s. Now imagine how many more lives this course can touch. We are the future of this community and NFTE is guiding us step by step. I would love to give thanks to Diontae Norwood for his breathtaking responses, Ms. Jarrell for nominating me to be the Classroom Ambassador, and Alexandra Terrana for guiding me to success as she helped me to complete this article. Thank you.

*Dance with Me is an idea for expressive dance programming to help youth process their emotions in a creative and healthy way in an effort to curb gang recruitment in Diontae’s neighborhood. 

Special Note: In an earlier draft Andres asks an essential question, “Why do people act when a life has already been taken? Why didn’t we act before?” Though it did not fit with this piece, I know Andres will be a thought leader in our community about this topic. 

NFTE Chicago Ideas Week

NFTE Chicago Ideas Week

Citywide Ideas Week

The typical NFTE school year consists of 4 units of study: Opportunity Recognition, Market Research, Financials, and Marketing. First students analyze problems they face in their everyday lives and measure the opportunity for business against their interests and strengths. Next, they further test the viability of their business idea through conducing primary and secondary market research. At this point, NFTE future entrepreneurs have to analyze their research and make a crucial business decision; move forward with their business plan idea, or pivot to target a better suited opportunity.

To highlight this very important part of the entrepreneurial journey, NFTE Chicago launched a month-long event in our schools, called NFTE Chicago Ideas Week. With a generous sponsorship and collaboration from Slalom Consulting Chicago, over 700 Chicago area students participated in valuable lessons about feedback and collaborative reviews co-developed with the Talent Management team at Slalom.

In our school communities citywide, students utilized their feedback and collaboration skills and some sweet new NFTE swag to solidify their intentions for their business plan, and publicly declare their idea.

NFTE Chicago Ideas Week Rally @ASPIRA


At ASPIRA Business and Finance High School, students have the unique experience of being a NFTE school, meaning that every student is required to take the NFTE course. Again, with generous support from Slalom Consulting Chicago, we were able to hold an Ideas Week rally at their school, bringing local entrepreneurs, Slalom volunteers, students and staff together for a celebration of ideas, initiative, risk-taking, and hard work.

Students participated in a three part program that included networking with Slalom consultants about their business plans, guest speakers and performances from local businesses Found Chicago and the Midnight Circus , and a short pitch competition.

Found Chicago is a dog rescue, rehabilitation, boarding and training facility nestled into the Irving Park neighborhood, while the Midnight Circus is a collaborative of performers human and dog alike, who perform to raise money for the Chicago Parks District each summer. Their involvement in the rally is the start of something very exciting for NFTE Chicago. As we continue to make connections in the Chicago business community, we are aiming to diversify our partner base. Scott Nasatir, Executive Director of NFTE Chicago, explains,

“It is extremely important to our organization that students are exposed to local entrepreneurs and unique businesses. An inclusive programming model will enable our students to be informed, active participants in our economy.”

As the event culminated with a pitch competition, students volunteered to do a short presentation of their business plan. Though this was many students’ first time speaking in front of a crowd, they did a great job and generated excitement for their businesses and their NFTE program. The day’s winner, Marc Anthony Santana, won a pizza party for his NFTE classroom and the reigning title until the final competition this May.

Congrats Marc Anthony! (featured in the video below)

NFTE Chicago Ideas Week Rally from Nfte Chicago on Vimeo.



Welcome to NFTE Chicago’s new blog! We are really excited to have a new platform to share all of the NFTE happenings with you as they happen. We know you will feel as passionate as we do about the opportunities that the NFTE program provides after you spend some quality time with us.

Everyone is Invited!

Recently we were on a field trip with students to the offices of a corporate partner. We always love these trips – it is a joy to see the students and the volunteers making connections and sharing a bit of themselves. Experiential learning at its best, students find themselves in a new environment, putting their new-found business skills to work.

When I first started teaching in Chicago I was naive. I had no idea the extent of inequity that some of our students face. I thought, “Everyone goes downtown, just jump on the train or bus, and walk around.” But I was very, very wrong about that (among many other things). Many of Chicago’s students have never been downtown, and certainly have not been in a high rise. What I came to learn, is that this is not a problem of access in terms of basic ability to be transported downtown. This is a product of lack of access to the mindset that downtown is the rightful place for any given person. I have had many conversations where students tell me, “that’s not for me”. They don’t mean “I don’t like it”, they mean, “I am not invited”.

Back to the field trip: I walked into the atrium where the students were gathered, and 3 young men were standing at the window, gazing upon the city. They really seemed to be taking it in. One of them was ever so slightly nodding his head yes.


In that moment, it struck me. This physical invitation into an office is, on its surface, an opportunity for students to see a work environment that they might not otherwise be exposed to. That is, of course, a valuable experience that shows students a new possibility for their future. But, there was also something happening with the physical position of being up high.

For most, this is their first time being physically in a position of being above, looking out – contemplating the vastness of our city, thinking about all that there must be down there…I could see that this was translating, before my eyes, into a profound psychological invitation.

This psychological invitation tells our students that you, yes you, can be up here. Or, you can be down there, or you can be over there, or over there, or over there. Anything and everything is for you! It opens a mind to the possibilities that can be. 

Part of the power of NFTE’s programming is that by giving students comprehensive tools to become entrepreneurs, we are inviting them into the economy. We are inviting them into the endless possibilities that America can provide.

We are inviting a future where we can all arrive to success, prosperity and health through innovation, collaboration and heart.

In this future, everyone is invited!

We hope you will join us here for more stories from the NFTE Chicago community as we grow together and make the future we envision a reality.