By Melissa Beltz
On May 23, Grade 4 students scurried around the tables that lined Parker’s Mission Hills Campus courtyard. Chattering as they worked, the students placed colorful, handmade goods beside placards that read, “We are OPEN.” Red plastic cash registers were filled with enough singles and coins to make change for the impending onslaught of shoppers.
The students were anxious yet prepared for the Grade 4 Business Sale. First up: Grades 1 and 5. Kids arrived with cash in hand, intent on purchasing goods produced by their fellow Lower School classmates. On one table— dubbed the “Spectacular Slime” table—sat colorful jars of stretchy putty, decorated with googly eyes and pouty lips. Situated on another, the “Power Plants” table, were small seedlings that had been planted in origami newspaper cartons. So it continued down the line, product after colorful and innovative product, all handmade by students—for students.
“This is the most encompassing project in which they are involved,” said Grade 4 teacher Christine Watson. “The project brings up so many things—what they can do, what they can be. It gets us on all these neat, real-life conversations.”
The Business Unit curriculum was brought to Parker by now retired Grade 4 teacher Annie Voight. Though Voight says the program has evolved throughout the years, one constant has been the value it adds to the curriculum.
“The Business Unit was created as an interdisciplinary program that adds to the Grade 4 curriculum,” Voight said. The program touches on a number of different subject matters important both inside and outside the classroom, including problem solving, creativity, leadership, focus, accountability, cooperation and communication.
The program guides students through the real-life process of grasping the basics of successful entrepreneurs.
Students collaborate in small teams to come up with a vision for their product. They conduct market research, visiting classrooms to ask students at different grade levels about what’s trending. They then design a prototype and draft a business plan to pitch to “investors” who will decide whether or not to fund the project.
The investors are Dr. Bob Gillingham, Head of Lower School, and a group of Grade 5 students. Each group of Grade 4 students works to persuade investors to allocate seed money toward their fledgling products; during this process, they receive feedback on how their products might be improved to appeal to the general student body.
Once their product is approved, each group is given $50 to cover production costs. Students must retain receipts and document all spending. After the sale, each group pays back the initial $50 investment before donating the balance to a charity of their choice.
The Business Unit has benefited from the introduction of the Scripps Design Lab at the Mission Hills Campus, equipped not only with conventional classroom materials, but also with hardware and tools that come in handy when building product prototypes.
“With the Scripps Design Lab, there is increased cooperation and working in teams,” said Laurie Brae, Lower School Librarian.
Brae, along with other teachers, was an integral part of the Business Unit this year. During production, she was on hand while students built their products in the Design Lab, where they fell naturally into production lines.
Parents can also take part in the Business Unit; those with relevant professional experience are invited to be a part of a business panel and spend time in the classroom, sharing their involvement in the business world and which qualities guided them toward success.
For Parker’s Grade 4 students, success isn’t measured only by profits so much as how much students give back when the unit is complete. Each class chooses a charity to which they donate their profits by writing persuasive essays detailing why their charity is the best choice. They work together to select one charity from the recommendations.
This year, Parker’s three Grade 4 classes chose to donate their profits to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Helen Woodward Animal Center and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In total, students raised almost $1,600 for their charities.