WALKER – High schools ask students to make career decisions, with options ranging from a four-year college or technical college to the military or going directly into the job market.
Walker High School is expanding those career options with the anticipated opening of a student-run clothing and apparel store offering Nike merchandise.
Students already have a chance to be exposed to retail sales, marketing, customer service and providing financial services with its Green and White Cookie Site and credit union.
“Our school motto is ‘Where opportunity today means success tomorrow,’ ’’ said Jason St. Pierre, Walker High principal.
St. Pierre said the new store will give students the opportunity to set up a store, order stock, run the store and interact with customers.
“It will be a great opportunity for career and technical education, learning the world of retail and merchandising,” he said.
“Students want real work experience in high school,” St. Pierre said. “This allows students to work alongside Nike personnel and BSN Sports personnel and be treated like a real-world operation.”
EKIN, a part of Nike’s marketing division, and BSN Sports, a Baton Rouge sporting goods distributor, “are great partners and supportive of the school and the idea of the store,” St. Pierre said.
“Kids love Nike, it’s probably the most recognized brand in the world,” he said.
The store will be called ChecqueMATE and initially will be housed in the Green and White Cookie Site, which offers snacks, drinks, school supplies and gift items.
When construction of new buildings closer to Florida Boulevard are complete, St. Pierre said he plans to relocate the shop to a more accessible location on campus.
ChecqueMATE should open this month, the principal said. “They just put in the first order of stock. As soon as it arrives and gets inventoried, it will be set up.
“Kids will get a chance to meet and work alongside EKIN personnel,” St. Pierre said. “Nike’s think-tank organization will … teach our students about visual merchandising, how to start up a business, how to follow and set trends, and to cash in on the current market.”
Nike is providing the merchandise to the high school at approximately 40 percent below its price to commercial retailers, according to a School Board news release, allowing the store to sell items at a more affordable price than some department stores or the Nike Outlet Store.
St. Pierre said Walker High is one of only two high schools in the area that has partnered with the apparel company to outfit the school’s athletic departments with Nike equipment and team apparel. The other school is Zachary High.
Nike plans to sponsor the district football game between the two schools next season, St. Pierre said, and ChequeMATE will be open to the public on the day of that game.
The store also will offer special promotions to campus visitors during orientation events, open house, after pep rallies and before football games and other sporting events.
Branching into apparel is a natural progression from students getting business experience at the Cookie Site, according to Brooke Rhymes, who teaches principles of marketing and principles of marketing-banking classes. Students in these classes work at the Cookie Site.
“Students enjoy it. They will be able to get unique items through us,” ranging from hats to polo shirts and T-shirts with the Walker Wildcat logo, she said. “Students get to practice their customer service skills, and have experience when they graduate.”
“They run it,” Thymes said of the Cookie Site. “They are stocking now,” she said of the students working behind the shelves. “They take orders online and work with customers in the morning and a lunchtime.”
When students complete the course, they receive a retail service certificate from the National Retail Federation, which can be listed on a job resume, Rhymes said.
Next door to the Cookie Site is the Walker Branch of Neighbors Federal Credit Union. To work in the credit union, students must complete summer employee training and orientation and work beside an NFCU service officer.
Finishing her time at the credit union, and preparing to take over as Cookie Site store manager, was senior Hannah Hernandez.
“I’m dedicated to this site,” said Hernandez, who has been involved with the Cookie Site for three years. The senior said she plans on attending Southeastern Louisiana University and major in marketing.
Like any job, Hernandez had to apply for the store manager’s job.
“There’s a lot of responsibility,” she said. “I had to prove I could get to store on time and knew how to work at the cookie store.”
“We tell students to take advantage of the opportunities in school to set yourself apart,” Rhymes said.
Where AP classes offer students a chance to get college credit in high school, career and technical classes offer them a chance to get industry-based certificates to help find a job, she said.
“We want to instill in them to take advantage of all the opportunities and get all the experience you can,” Rhymes said.