It is the lunch hour and the main reception hall of Gordon Head middle school has turned into a mini-mall.
Multi-coloured, hand-painted paper banners advertise wallets made out of duct tape, snack bags and stress balls among other items, whose designs clearly cater to esthetic sensibilities of the middle school students buzzing between the tables.
Less than hour later, all is quiet again as students fold up the last tables and chairs on their way back to class.
But if this mall closed down as quickly as it had popped up, the people behind it hope that its lessons will last a lifetime.
Titled Business of Our Own, this Junior Achievement program gave four Grade 7 classes (over 100 students) a chance to create a retail business from scratch with the volunteer support of four local entrepreneurs serving as mentors. They include, among others, Amy McGeachy of McGeachy Media and Design, host of a popular home decorating show that runs on local television. All sales ($675) went towards the Victoria Child Abuse Prevention and Counselling Centre.
“It’s really fun,” said Emily Wang of the experience, during a break from selling wallets made out of duct tape. It has taught her how to work with classmates towards a common goal, she said.
Each participating class initially divides into groups responsible for different aspects of the business, such as finance, marketing and sales. So students learn to work with each other, says Jane Hill, marketing and development lead with Monk Office.
“And then there is the ‘aha’ moment when the teams come together,” she said.
Students, according to Hill, realize that they cannot work in isolation from the other teams, because the success of each depends on the others, just like in a real business. “A decision can’t be made without input from all areas – can sales sell the product and what do they need for success?” she said. “How will [we] market and what will that cost?”
Lessons of that sort were not available to mentor Andrea Linger of Raymond James Ltd. “I didn’t get anything like this at my age,” she said.
Linger said skills such as managing money are crucial abilities whose seeds need to be planted early. “It’s super important to know what the options are.”
Linger’s personal biography also motivated her to become involved. “My family is in business, so it is actually important to teach our kids good business skills,” she said.
Marlena Turner, a sales co-ordinator with BOSA Properties, agreed in describing her involvement with the project. “It is important to show kids of all ages what they can do,” she said. “I’m passionate about showing children that they can believe in their ideas.”