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Students put JA lessons to work

Memorial School fifth grade teacher Christine Casagrande, Elissa Langevin, Junior Achievement volunteer and vice president of Hampden Bank in Wilbraham, and students pose for a group photo on the final day of their Junior Achievement program. Reminder photo by Debbie Gardner
By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

WILBRAHAM Would you be tempted to try a new, fresh-squeezed lemonade if you saw the business in the food court at Eastfield Mall? How about buying a fuzzy mini play pillow for your dog or cat if you saw the item at a local store?

Or, would you consider a new sitter for your child or pet if the references were good, the prices reasonable and the location convenient? What about hiring a new advertising agency to help you promote your business or organization through promotional flyers, commercials or a billboard?

Do these sound like viable start-up businesses to you?

They did to the students in Christine Casagrande's fifth-grade class at Memorial School, too.

In fact, every one of these potential companies was presented as a final project last Wednesday, culminating the student's six-week Junior Achievement (JA) lesson on how large and small companies work.

Getting hands-on with business

"We actually extended [the unit] for a week," explained fifth grade Junior Achievement volunteer Elissa Langevin, who in the work-a-day world is the assistant vice president at the Wilbraham branch of Hampden Bank. "The [lesson] plan called for the class to do one business plan, and each group take a piece, but [Casagrande and I] decided it would be better if each group did their own."

And, Langevin said, the students really took the final project to heart, working hard to come up with a potential product or service and then outlining the steps to launch their business from location to financing to marketing to division of duties within the company.

"We have to make a poster and show our business plan," student Catherine Bass said, explaining the mechanics of the project. "We have to explain how each partner contributes to the company and how much our prices were."

But even though the students found the project "fun," many said they also learned that starting a business can be challenging.

"The hardest thing was trying to get the group to decide what we were going to sell," said Sarah Goolishian, whose group developed the idea of producing and selling fuzzy mini-pillows for pets. "I learned that it takes a lot of cooperation to start running a business."

Putting learning into practice

Langevin explained that the business plan project was the students' chance to put what they had learned into practice. Through her once-a-week visits with the students, she had introduced them to the different types of businesses: sole proprietorship, corporation and partnership. They were also introduced to manufacturing through a pen assembly project; to advertising, through a class on how businesses promote themselves; and to how companies go about getting the money to begin doing business.

"It was fun," said lemonade stand entrepreneur Erika Sawicki of the class on manufacturing. "We got to make pens and we got prizes by whatever group made the most pens."

And she wasn't the only student who was impressed by the real-world experiences JA brought into their classroom.

"I probably would have never learned how to do advertising and all that stuff without JA," said Chris Diaz, whose group presented a business plan for a new babysitting service.

Casagrande seemed to agree.

"I think [the JA unit] gave them a real dose of reality, of what someday they might do" she said. "We're so much with textbooks and workbooks and school stuff, it's nice to have a break and talk about real life and what they can do when they get a job down their road, opening their eyes to businesses and entreprenership and what's out there."

And the lesson continues

Though Langevin's weekly lessons with Casagrande's class have finished, she told the students she will still be stopping in periodically to give them their stock reports.

It seems that, as a result of their JA business lessons, the students are now hooked on following the stock market.

"It was really fun because we got to learn who would win and who would lose when our stocks go up and down," Briana Gilligan said.

In a post-class interview, Langevin explained that, as a part of the lesson on business ownerships, she and the class talked about stocks and how stockholders are actually part owners of the company they invest in.

"That's how we got into stocks," she said, explaining an ongoing project she will be following for the class. "[The students] researched their own stocks ... their job was to research and choose stocks they wanted to purchase ... and each was given a fictitious set amount [of money] and 'bought' three stocks and now we're just watching them."

The benefits immeasurable

"I learned in the future that there's a lot of hard work and that's what life is like when you have a job," Christiana Greco said, summing up her feelings about the JA unit in her classroom. "But, it was really fun."

"I think it's a great experience for kids who want to grow up and start their own business," Drew Mapplethorpe said, adding that he'd like to see JA taught in Casagrande's classroom again next year.

And, according to Langevin, the students weren't the only ones who came away with something from the six-week JA experience.

"This is my first experience teaching JA ... what a great class!" she said. "You could see their faces light up ... they really learned something. It was very fulfilling on my part."

To get involved

To volunteer to teach JA in a Wilbraham classroom in the future or to become a business partner, call Pam Tardiff, director of education and marketing for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, at 747-7670. She will put volunteers in touch with the appropriate school coordinators.