Hesston High educator leaving legacy of entrepreneurship, non-traditional education

Denise Goevert has been head of The Pit Stop since 2005. The former banker and secretary turned teacher took on The Pit Stop as a hands-on education opportunity for young people interested in starting and running their own businesses.

HESSTON – Denise Goevert is officially taking her leave of Hesston High. After nearly two decades at USD-460, Goevert said it was time to focus on her family and her Main Street business, The Nest.

Goevert is best known within the district for her work in The Pit Stop, a student-led business that serves treats during the school day and has traditionally been open during high school events.

“The Pit Stop was about giving a wide variety of kids the chance to learn hands-on business,” she said.

Goevert started her time at Hesston as the secretary for Principal Larry Thompson. Thompson, who had come from Youthville, “felt very strong, if kids that were in that challenging environment could run a successful business, so could Hesston High students,” said Goevert.

The Pit Stop was founded by educators Dori Roth and Brenan Torgerson.
“I got to see the planning and development side of it. The wood shop got involved to do the building,” the process began in 2003, and in August of 2005, Goevert took over after completing the Transition to Teaching program and has since earned a Master’s in Education.

“I was a banker. But, I figured out pretty quickly banking was not the industry I was going to stay in,” she said.

The Pit Stop attracted a wide variety of students and Goevert, “really appreciated that it didn’t matter; there was no box for our students to fit in to be in that class.”
Work ethic, a willingness to learn and one prerequisite business class and students were able to enroll in the business management classes or work in The Pit Stop through the applied business development program, working outside the school day at basketball games or other events.

“The greatest thing about the program, we were able to cover a wide range of kids,” she said.

Over the 16 years The Pit Stop has been in business, it has impacted over 300 Hesston High students.

“I think that any kid has the potential to be a manager or entrepreneur,” she said.

Goevert has expanded the possibilities offered in the business programs at Hesston to include courses on management, entrepreneurship, market days and helping students establish their own small businesses.

“One business, a Whole Lot of Latte, made sugar-free drinks and we’re still selling them,” she said, “Game Day Spices, they started with us and a group of boys developed that and are able to sell it.”

Through her years as an educator, Goevert said she had some students surprise her.

“There were a lot of kids that I wasn’t sure how it was going to go and kids surprised me with their work ethic and their ability to take on leadership roles in The Pit Stop,” she said.

While Goevert found unique ways to bring out the best in her students, she was also juggling the complexities of running a business with a non-profit status through the school district.

“We couldn’t really make money. We needed to make enough that we were staying open and paying bills. But, you don’t get to have deductions like in a normal business; we didn’t pay rent or utilities. We had to simulate those things,” she said. Goevert walked an educational and logistical tightrope “between combining the school setting, real business and a balance between the authentic experience.”

One of the greatest challenges students at The Pit Stop and Goevert faced was the Healthy Hunger Free Kids initiative under the Obama administration that began in 2010.

“In 2014, that was the year we had a net loss and that was pretty concerning,” she said. Goevert guided students through the process of looking for new vendors and adapting the business to the new environment.

“The kids came together, overcame and that’s when we really saw a little more group bonding,” she said.

Through the years, Goevert has developed The Pit Stop, curriculum and programs for students to reach their full potential as young people interested in becoming part of the business community.

“I’d like kids to take away they can be problem solvers, they can overcome and see things aren’t always going to be handed to you. Problem-solve, seek solutions, there is always a way to get through things and have fun!”

Goevert said The Pit Stop and the confidence students found through the business department “changed the culture of the building” by giving students a space they have control and ownership of.

“They go to and sit in seven different rooms in a day and the library, but they didn’t have the ability to take ownership. They have ownership in a part of the school and we have been able to foster that,” she said.

Goevert said as an educator, “I hope my legacy is that, by taking ownership in the building and where you are, you get to see the fruits of your labor. It gives them something to be proud of,” she said.

Students who might not feel success in the traditional classroom can find success at The Pit Stop.

She said, “It’s just because they sat down and studied hard. That’s important, but it’s hard to say ‘I studied and did well,’ At The Pit Stop.  We see the successes of those other students,” she said,

As Goevert wraps up her time at Hesston High, she said it has been a difficult year to say goodbye, as many of the traditional milestones of high school years have been impacted by the pandemic.

“It hit me when we hosted the state game. I thought, ‘This is the last time I’m going to do this.’”

Moving forward, Goevert said, like any business, The Pit Stop can benefit from new leadership and new ideas brought by fellow educator Staci Hansen, who will be taking over the program next fall.