From the April 2003 issue of Startups

I never liked economics in high school. It was so ridiculously boring, having to watch videos of ancient professors drone on endlessly about supply and demand. Thankfully, it only lasted a semester.

Students at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California, aren't suffering through economics the way I did. Through the Virtual Enterprise program, a select group of students are learning the theories and principles behind economics by doing. During the course of the 2002-2003 school year, the 30 students in Marie Wake's economics class have been developing Paragon Publishing, the publisher of Flip, an e-zine featuring content for boys and girls.

"It was a new experience, and I thought it would teach me more than a regular class," says Elizabeth Duckworth, an El Toro senior and CEO of Paragon. Students in the class, who take one year of economics rather than one semester, learn the basics of economics from a standard textbook, then put all those theories into practice running Paragon. The class not only handles the business side of the magazine--with students running the accounting, human resources and marketing portions of the publisher--but they also create content and art for the magazine and sell virtual ads and subscriptions.

Virtual Enterprises operate at high schools throughout the world, giving students business experience through the creation of a simulated business. Paragon Publishing is part of a network of California high school enterprises that conduct commerce together, buying and selling products from one another to benefit each enterprise's bottom line. The schools also attend trade shows, where they can win awards for different aspects of their businesses. Paragon has been recognized for its employee manual and trade show display.

In March, Paragon had an open house, welcoming students from other classes to learn how the publisher and class worked. CEO Duckworth and her staff of vice presidents each gave a short presentation to explain their duties and responsibilities. Afterward, Paragon employees sold Flip subscriptions to visitors. Funds from these sales, as well as those done online, are deposited into Paragon's virtual bank account and are used to pay employees and cover expenses.

While a major benefit of the Virtual Enterprise program is to give students a cool way to learn economics, the classes are also inspiring and training future entrepreneurs. Duckworth plans to major in business when she attends college next year, and vice president of accounting Leo Galarza, a senior who first studied accounting through El Toro's ROP program, is interested in international business and accounting.

A new group of students will be enrolled in Wake's class next year and will have the option of continuing with Paragon or creating a new virtual enterprise.

"[This experience] is going to help me a lot," says Megan Lencek, Paragon's vice president of human resources, who plans on studying business, among other subjects, when she begins attending college next year. "I've learned to be diplomatic; I know how to listen to people."