Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Maxwell Elementary fifth-graders run their own businesses

Students get lessons in retail, from product selection and marketing, to leasing and sales By SUZANNE NORMAND BLACKWOOD (Tennessean)• Staff Writer • April 9, 2008 BLUE HOLE ROAD — After a stint at entrepreneurship, Maxwell Elementary School fifth-grader Taylor Neely said she would probably not want to go out on her own again. Taylor's classmate, Pamela Hunt, said she would try it again, but only if she had a good team to help her. Taylor and Pamela recently got a taste of what it is like to be an entrepreneur during a special fifth-grade economics unit called Mini Society. The unit allows teachers to set up an environment in which students can open businesses and sell products they manufactured or purchased through other sources. The students learned about what is involved in getting a permit, leasing space and marketing their own products. They then had the opportunity to sell their products during Market Day, which took place inside a portable converted into "Maxwell Mall." Permits were issued through the school and had to be displayed at places of business. If the students lost their permits, their businesses were shut down. The students could choose between leasing table space or desk space. The rent for table space was higher and, in general, varied according to location. The students were first shown outdoor spaces for lease, with the assumption that it would be an outdoor mall. But they were also shown indoor spaces in case weather prevented the mall from being outdoors, as was the case on Market Day. One group provided its own table to cut down on the cost of rent, said social studies teacher Nicole Janz, who led the unit with teacher Heather Woodroof. The students also did advertisements in the fourth-grade hallway, where they had to pay for advertising space, she said. Janz said the students studied concepts such as product and consumer and economic risk. Because their products were being sold mostly to fourth-graders, they had to learn how to market their products for fourth-graders. They also had think about what would appeal to boys and what would appeal to girls. Two kids carried teacher supplies, Janz said, adding teachers also made up their clientele. A few students even marketed their products in Spanish as a way of reaching their Spanish-speaking customers, she added. Among the products the students had for sale were bookmarks, jewelry and purses. A few decorated jewelry boxes and sold their own artwork, Janz said. The currency used was the school's own, called "Maxwell money." "It's actually kind of cool. We had a lot of people coming to buy our stuff," said Pamela, who shared a booth with Taylor and two other students. She said they sold picture frames and offered a free photo for each customer who purchased a frame. They also had pencil pouches and wallets. "The Army pencil pouches are gone," she said. Pamela said they also sold baseball cards. "Nobody is really buying those, but that's OK. We sold a lot of stuff," she said. She said they dropped some of the prices so they could move the merchandise quicker, and they had to do a lot of talking to get shoppers interested. "We offered all of the teachers discounts, but some offered full price," Taylor said. But even after the discounts, some still wanted a break, she added. Taylor said she learned that running her own business is "a lot of work." Making their own products probably involved the most time and effort, she said. Also, said Pamela, "We had to pay for everything." That's another challenge of running your own business, she said. Janz said the students could purchase supplies through the school or from their parents to help set up their businesses. Some, she said, bartered with the parents by offering to do chores at home in exchange for supplies. "It brought everyone together," said Janz, adding the parents really got involved. She said the students took the projects very seriously, even working during their spring breaks to get their businesses ready. "It was an amazing learning experience," she said.

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