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Lessons Even Scrooge Would Admire

Just as national trends show an uptick in holiday spending, that trend was also reflected at an annual holiday boutique put on by fifth-graders at Top of the World elementary school last week. In fact, Scrooge himself would have had trouble suppressing a smile at the makeshift marketplace that combined high spirits and thriving commerce with a philanthropic twist.

Through their creative endeavors, the young entrepreneurs and budding humanitarians, about 120 in all, raised over $4,300 in under three hours, and all of the proceeds will go to charities selected by the students.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said fifth grade teacher Teryl Campbell, describing the scenario in which the fifth graders set up “businesses” while the rest of the school’s students turn into customers.

Campbell and TOW’s other fifth grade teachers, Rosie Haynes, Susan Dick and Sarah Wolsey, described the concept to their class before their dismissal for Thanksgiving to allow for ample product development time.

“My students were thrilled to put on the event,” said Wolsey. “They’ve grown up attending the boutique as paying customers. Now it was their turn. I had some students who had been planning their businesses since last year!”

The singular event combines holiday cheer with a crash course in business and marketing. For example, in creating their original product or service, students were told to try to limit their “investment” in the venture to about $20 and were encouraged to use items already around the house, if possible. They learned that the less they spent in operating costs, the greater their potential profits.

Students were allowed to sell their wares for 25 cents to $2 and offered instruction on the value of time and labor, and monitoring inventory in case of unanticipated demand.

There is nothing like a free market to drive an economic lesson home. Luke Colburn quickly discovered the role of pricing in controlling inventory. His “tops,” created by attaching marbles to the centers of CDs, were such a hot item that before the market was over he doubled their price from 75 cents to $1.50 in an effort to make his inventory last through all four selling periods. “I just thought of it,” said Luke when asked about the inspiration behind his product, unable to articulate his creative genius. “He’s very inventive, a cross between and artist and a scientist,” said his mother, Susan Anderson.

Teachers also encouraged students to think about merchandising by decorating their space and making it attractive to customers. Students Charles Keller and Joseph Sweet, who teamed up to make a ball-toss game, took the advice to heart, decorating their game with snowflakes and glitter and hawking it with cries of “try your luck.” Jennifer Sweet, Joseph’s mom, said the boys worked on their game for two weeks. They devised a point system and prizes, made a sign, and figured out fees for patrons.

“Everyone wanted to try it,” said Joseph, who worked hard at marketing. They collected $98.

Vendors sold dog treats, ornaments made with wine corks, pins made of holly, tie-dyed sock mittens, mystery envelopes containing bookmarks or bracelets, hot cocoa mix, and more. “I had one student dress up as Santa,” said Wolsely. “He took holiday pictures with his customers. It was so clever and a big hit.”

Brianna Brown learned the value of sweat equity and an artist’s connection to their work with her popular hand-sewn felt animal ornaments. Her mom, Cheryl, said she had worked so hard on them that selling them was difficult. But sell them she did.

Despite their obligation to sell, the kids were clearly there to buy, as well. Owen McMurray, who made candy cane “reindeer” with pipe cleaners and googly eyes, said that he liked shopping the boutique and “seeing what everyone else had.” One of his favorite stalls was the game set up by Sterling Butler and Benjamin Sharp where patrons had to knock down stacked cups. Owen won and was rewarded with a genuine, handmade duct tape wallet.

Wolsey praised the boutique for modeling entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Kids in each class get to vote on where to donate their funds. Her students, who raised over $1,400, opted to give their funds to Surfer’s Healing, Wheels4life, and the CSP Youth Shelter.

Campbell’s students, for their part, voted to give the $1,100 they raised to Haiti, though they are still researching the best organization for the purpose. Kate Kruger, who came up with a silk screen design for t-shirts, has decided to donate her excess inventory to the Haitian children as well.

Business lessons aside, holiday cheer infused the marketplace. “It’s just the most fun morning,” said Campbell.

 

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