March 2001 Vol. 2, Issue 3
In St. Charles
Fifth-graders Jolene Potter, Alyssa Ermeling and Dana Lowry have a booming business in class at Null Elementary School in St. Charles.
The business is called JAD Nails. J, A and D are the first letters of the girls’ first names. They have just one of the businesses created in the mythical in-class community of Real World.
By running their businesses, kids learn lessons in economics, civics and entrepreneurship.
The first order of business was to create a “mini-society” within the class. It has a structure like a regular city. They picked Real World as the name and even designed the city’s flag.
They created their own money, called “really funny mini-money.”
The kids “earned” money by doing good works during the year. For instance, completing homework was worth 150 “funny money” dollars. That gives them money to use to buy products and services from other kids’ businesses.
Once rules were set, kids divided into teams to plan what type of business they wanted.
That’s when Jolene, Alyssa and Dana wrote their business plan for their nails shop. They decided to offer full nail service. They even install false nails and top them with glitter.
During a recent in-class business session, JAD Nails was the busiest. Part of that was due to many boys having their nails decorated.
Alyssa said, “I don’t think we could have made our business any better, especially for the boys.”
Their classmates agreed. They got the biggest ovation during a critique session after a recent “business day” ended. Teacher Margaret Benedict said the girls’ shop did the most business for the day.
Ms. Benedict has been using the “mini-society” lesson plan for 10 years. She said the school lessons have more meaning when the kids are working with a real business model.
After writing a business plan, the kids did a market survey in class. They wanted to find out if their business would attract any student customers.
Then, they applied for a business license from the Real World government. If they planned to sell food or drink, they also needed a food license.
Eleven-year-old Sarah Hovanec set up a bakery. She called it Teddy Bear Delights.
“I decided on a bakery because lots of kids 10 and 11 years old like to eat a lot,” she said.
In her market survey, the kids said their favorite snack was donuts. But, during the recent business day, Nutty Bars sold the best. Sarah said the market surveys don’t always give you complete answers.
Teacher Benedict noted that Sarah might have too many different kinds of snacks for sale. “In a real store, that might mean you’d have a lot of leftovers that might spoil,” she said.
Sarah had to make one concession in setting up her own shop. School rules said she could only sell pre-packaged food. “I couldn’t bake anything myself,” she said.
Also, at JAD Nails, the girls couldn’t apply false nails to anyone unless they had written permission from their parents. (False nails pose a potential health hazard. People can get infections underneath false nails.)
Pricing products was a big test for the kids.
Lauren Bailey and Jessie Ohlms had a business called Bailey’s and Jessie’s Art Stand. They sold pre-drawn artwork. They also would make a special drawing to the customer’s specifications.
Lauren said, “You don’t want to price it too high so people won’t come. But, we didn’t want to price so low we’d go out of business.”
Sometimes, the products offered had sharply different prices.
For instance, Megan Riley, Sara Baban and Christy Hoffmann ran the Picture and Music Outlet. A customer could have their picture taken for 250 “mini-money” dollars. Or they could listen to music on a CD player for only 75 dollars.
Megan was asked if the pictures might be priced too high. “We wouldn’t make a profit if we priced pictures less. We have to pay for developing and printing the pictures. We just play the music,” she said.
In the critique session after the business day ended, Benedict noted that one of the kids businesses had almost no customers.
Benedict said, “The mini-society will have to consider at the next meeting what to do with a failing business.”
Kids can expand or shrink their businesses or even decide to change it altogether. But before making a change, they have to file a revised business plan.
Students refine their businesses all through the semester.
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