The slime sold out in about an hour, even though it was the most expensive item in the shopping complex. The chocolate ice cream, priced at 40 cents a cup (plus 20 cents per topping), didn’t last much longer and the vanilla was going fast.
“Business is hard. You run out of stuff,” fourth-grader Jaelyn Burkett surmised; but Evan Grady, her partner in Aphrodite’s Ice Cream, didn’t seem that worried. “I think we’ll have enough at least until lunchtime,” he said, “and we have a backup plan.”
The proprietors of the eight “stores” in Caroline Murphrey’s classroom at Southwood Elementary School all had a plan. That was the point of Business Day on Thursday, when her students set up and staffed retail businesses in her classroom and classes from the rest of the school came to shop in 15-minute intervals.
Business Day pulled together – and put into practice – things Murphrey’s students had learned over the past couple of months about mythology and about North Carolina’s economy.
“We combined all of that to have the children create a business, a business plan and have it all built around an allusion to mythology, a creature, god or goddess,” Murphrey explained. “We studied businesses in our culture that have allusions to mythology now, like Nike, which was the goddess of victory. Nike is saying if you buy our shoes you will be victorious.”
Or as they say at Aphrodite’s Ice Cream: “Everyone loves ice cream and Aphrodite is the goddess of love.”
Jaelyn and Evan really wanted to sell slushies, but business sense prevailed. “We figured out the budget would be too high,” Jaelyn said. “We wanted to do something frozen, so we chose to do ice cream.”
Each store – operated by a team of two to four students – had a maximum budget for product of $40, money provided by parents, who first had to approve what their children wanted to sell and who won praise from Murphrey for their “phenomenal support.”
“The children had to figure out the cost of what they bought, how much each item cost their business, figure out how much profit they wanted to make, add that together to figure out the price to charge and then they determined their income and subtracted money spent to get their profit,” she said.
According to the Business Day Business Plan for Aphrodite’s Ice Cream, the store paid 13 cents a unit for ice cream, provided the topping at a slight mark-up and calculated a profit of nearly 30 cents a cup – plus what they expected to make selling pencils, candy and raffle tickets for a lava lamp. The backup plan – in case they ran out of ice cream – was selling tickets to a beanbag toss game.
Next door at Pandora’s Slime, Makenzie Herring and Xochitl Lopez-DePaz were already on Plan B. “Since we ran out of slime, we’re doing this thing where you pay 50 cents and to get one piece of candy you have to toss this thing in the bucket,” Makenzie said. “If you make it, you get to choose the candy; if you don’t, it’s OK, you can try again. You don’t have to pay.”
The girls expected to clear about $30 on their slime sales. “We thought that was a big thing everybody likes to play with and we like it a lot,” Xochitl said. “We decided to make it and a lot of people did like it.” The ingredients for making slime cost $36, they said, and made more than 61 batches. They sold it at 90 cents for the small size and $1.50 for the large.
“We learned how businesses work and how people represent their store and how they sell stuff, the prices,” Xochitl said.
“Customer service,” Makenzie said. “You have to treat your customers right.”
Like the ice cream vendors, they had a large bag of dimes – the only denomination accepted during Business Day, a nod to Base 10 math lessons and an effort to keep things simple for the school’s younger shoppers. After business hours, the profits would be pooled for donation to a charity selected by class vote.
Just as businesses succeed when they make a profit, teachers succeed when they make their point.
One of Caroline Murphrey’s own teachers, Kimberly Whitley at Arendell Parrott Academy, made an indelible point a few years ago when she organized a Business Day for a fourth-grade class that included young Caroline. “It’s the thing I most remember about being in her class and about that year,” Murphrey said. “When I ask my classmates, they say the same thing.”
Over Christmas break she contacted Whitley for advice about staging her own Business Day, modeled very closely on the event she experienced in elementary school.
“I hope my students will get the same thing out of this that I got,” she said. “They learned about business, but they also learned how to work in a group and solve problems. I think they see that learning is more than sitting at a desk, taking tests. This makes learning real.”