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Business students hit the bricks in downtown Billings this week to get an education outside of hitting the books.

As part of a program called One Montana, students from Billings West High and St. Labre High School visited several local establishments to learn about the nuts and bolts — and struggles — of running a business.

“It’s like a real hands-on experience,” said Sarah Prescott, a West student.

After taking tours of a handful of businesses around town, students were turned loose along North Broadway and the surrounding area to talk to local businesses, who had a heads-up the students would be coming.

Prescott and four other students ducked into Rockets, a specialty wrap and soda eatery on First Avenue North. An employee explained how the business got started and has evolved, adapting to the tastes of different crowds.

“You can see how far they progressed,” said Lesieli Tupou, a West student. “Not everything’s going to be this perfect route.”

While many of the students hoped to pursue a business career, such tours also help students gauge their interest.

“I just took the class for the experience and to go from there, see if I like it or not,” said Tiffany Tallwhiteman, a St. Labre student.

One Montana's Rural-Urban Student and Entrepreneur Exchange connects some of Montana’s largest schools with some of the smallest to help them learn about the state’s business and cultural diversity.

West students will visit Ashland, where St. Labre is located, later this year. As part of their trip, they’ll learn about local businesses and act as marketing consultants to a new school store operated by St. Labre students. They’ll also participate in an event to learn more about Native American culture.

“It was a great barrier-breaker,” said Bonni Geise, a One Montana program specialist, about a similar event last year.

About a dozen Montana schools have participated in or are slated to pick up the program.

Nicole Bogunovich, a West business teacher, believes it's essential for students to get outside the classroom.

“This should be part of the curriculum,” she said.

One of her students, Frankie Parrott, agreed.

“It’s a lot better than reading from a textbook,” she said.

It also introduces students to potential role models and mentors.

“I think that everyone wants to be their own boss at some point,” Prescott said. “You can put a real person to that story.”

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.