Aspen Middle School students start own businesses, raise nearly $6,000 for nonprofits
The Aspen Times
Though sales pitches and expense reports have no place in most 11-year-olds’ vernacular, for Aspen Middle School’s new batch of entrepreneurs, this is the latest conversation.
Over the past six weeks, two sixth-grade-classes at Aspen Middle School have learned how to create and operate their own businesses as part of the school’s service learning program.
From washing cars, making lemonade and weaving bracelets made from Paracord to baking brownies, tie-dying T-shirts and selling popsicles, the sixth graders raised more than $5,660 to donate to nonprofit organizations of their choice.
“(The students) were incredibly enthusiastic about their projects,” sixth-grade teacher Kristen Zodrow said. “It was a bit like wildfire when we introduced it.”
Zodrow and fellow sixth-grade teacher Matt Fields proposed the project to their students toward the end of April, Fields said.
The teachers instructed their students to brainstorm both a business idea and a benefiting organization they feel passionately toward.
Many of the nonprofits selected hit close to home for the students, Zodrow explained, whether it was the Haiti Foundation of Hope because one of their classmates was from Haiti or St. Jude Children’s Hospital because another peer is a leukemia survivor.
“I thought it was really nice that lot of the groups had or made personal connections to the charities they benefited,” Zodrow said.
Students were assigned into groups of between two and six students, and their teachers helped them craft a “kid-friendly” business plan, Zodrow explained.
The sixth graders also planned budgets, accounted for income and expenses, created popup signs and websites and watched the documentary “The Start-Up Kids.”
From the importance of teamwork and profitability to the difficulties of working with others and selling a product, the sixth graders Friday afternoon reported many invaluable lessons from the experience.
“When you start your business, I was trying to worry about everything that I wanted to sell — lemonade, doughnuts, ton of sweets,” said sixth grade student John Kertz. “But I didn’t realize that all I needed to worry about was one thing and make it a lot of money.”
In Andy Bass’ group, the focus of their business, which benefited Aspen Community Office for Resource Efficiency, transitioned from creating bracelets to purchasing ice pops in bulk upon realizing their labor versus profitability.
After making “too many (bracelets) to count,” Bass explained, the group bought packs of 24 Otter Pops and sold them individually for $1.
“The kids really capitalized on the Otter Pop sales,” Zodrow said, upon discovering “they could make about 10 times as much money in half the time.”
For sixth-grade student Nate Balko, the project taught him the value of teamwork.
“I learned that you really have to do it as a team and nobody can do it alone, otherwise some people are off-track,” Balko said. “When you’re doing it as team you guys have more fun and you guys are contributing to the team and you learn much more about the experience doing it as a team than doing it as yourself.”
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.