‘The whole idea is their free market enterprise and to see how our country operates.’
— Cynthia Harmon
By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Hands-on learning at Haigh Elementary School’s annual fourth-grade market day has become a popular and successful way for students to learn how free enterprise operates, teacher Cynthia Harmon said.
“It’s one thing to teach them about scarcity, supply and demand,” Harmon said, “but when they actually see that five people are selling the same product, and their price is high, and they’re not selling anything, they actually see how that works in the marketplace. So at the end of the day they’re going to see if they’re bankrupt or if they were a solvent business.”
She said the end-of-year economic simulation has students producing, advertising and marketing a product. Students apply for a business loan, which they need to eventually pay back with interest and use to purchase a business license, rent sales tables and purchase marketing materials.
While the students do not factor in the cost of the materials that they use to make their products — which they create at home on their own time — they do factor in the cost to purchase marketing materials and selling space.
Three girls in Harmon’s class – Adriana Viscomi, 10, Olivia Sherman, 9, and Latifa Awada, 9 – pooled their resources to share advertising expenses as well as floor space to sell their colorful and creative jewelry designs.
Adriana made bracelets using soda pop can tab rings and ribbon, Olivia made braided and crocheted friendship bracelets, and Latifa made beaded character necklaces.
Latifa said she used beads that she hoped would appeal to younger children.
“I thought they would be creative for little children and they could have fun with them and show their friends, so they could come and buy more,” Latifa said. “And I thought that it would be a good experience for me because when I grow up I am going to make jewelry. I thought maybe if I add more details they would want to buy more of them, and now I’m selling like crazy.”
While Latifa recycled beads she had at home and bought some new beads for her necklaces, Adriana used bright ribbons to weave together bracelets from soda pop tab rings friends and family saved for her.
While making bracelets for market day, Adriana said she learned to start every bracelet the same way, and to take into account customer color and size preference.
“You have to learn about what people might like,” Adriana said, “what patterns of ribbons they like and what sizes they might need.”
Next to them, Issa Aoun, 10, and Hadi Bazzi, 9, who also made bracelets — theirs from beads and pipe cleaners — offered customers additional choices by offering pipe cleaner bookmarks and stress balls, flour-filled balloons that are relaxing to squeeze.
Aoun said he learned that you have to spend or invest money to make money.
Haigh Principal Patti Buoy said she is pleased students are learning these and other economics lessons each year at the annual market day as they start and run their own businesses.
She said students keep track of everything they sell, as well as other costs to run a business.
“Up until now they have only learned about economics in terms of reading about it or hearing their teachers talk about it,” Buoy said. “But when they actually get that opportunity to start to run a little mini business, then the meanings of those words actually come to life for them.”
Buoy said it seems this year the students have taken time and attention to present unique products that distinguish them from their competitors, even wearing costumes and making their sales area more inviting.
She said they also were offering sales.
“They’re telling me they have special products they made just for the principal,” Buoy said. “So of course that entices me to buy more.”
Students developed ideas and business plans by themselves, Harmon said, and their classmates freely offered business-building suggestions.
“Really it’s amazing how empathetic 10-year-olds are,” Harmon said. “It was really interesting when they were giving their pitch, and some student would stand up and show what they were going to make, the insightful questions and suggestions they were offering.”
She said suggestions included customizing product and charging more for unique and differentiated product.
Other students did a successful job marketing their products to their customers to boost sales.
“Some of the companies that I thought were going to be bankrupt actually had better salesmanship,” fourth-grade teacher Jilrae Greco said. “They were able to talk the people into their products. I see their future.”
Market day is a great way to take the economic common core standards that they teach in fourth grade and put it into a real life situation, Greco said.
She said she recognizes the signs of several future entrepreneurs in her classroom.
“I really think a couple of them really took it to heart,” Greco said, “and they’re really thinking beyond just this a little (like) Junior Achievement.”
Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization designed to teach young people about money management and how business works.
“The whole idea is their free market enterprise and to see how our country operates,” Harmon said. “The kids love it. They look forward to it every year.”