The Mexican food joint ran out of bowls in the middle of Tuesday's noontime rush. Fortunately, the pasta place downstairs offered some of its paper bowls — for $5.
These shopkeepers may be seventh-graders, but they're learning hard truths about business. This year, for the 25th time, Westminster School students are creating and running businesses as part of their schoolwork.
Before they launched their two-week business experiments in the school's common area, the students prepared business plans, surveyed potential customers, researched raw materials' costs and wrote a loan application.
The students arrange delivery or purchase their products, and also promote their wares with posters and PowerPoint presentations.
Math teacher Gayla Howell, who has worked with the annual program 11 years, said the school loaned the 14 student businesses more than $10,000 this year. By the end of the fourth day, the enterprise had broken even, she said, and is on track to reach $10,000 in profit when the project ends its two-week run.
“Our goal is to teach the seventh-graders to be entrepreneurs,” Howell said. The program started in 1987 and has generated more than $125,000 for scholarships to the private school in northwest Oklahoma City.
Sales are strong
The spirit of entrepreneurship is strong in the Westminster common
Customers bought 55 pieces of bacon Tuesday before classes began at 8:20 a.m. The doughnut enterprise has been selling 10 dozen a day.
“We don't usually have leftovers,” Howell said.
The businesses draw parents and alumni, including 19-year-old Kathlin Winter, a Baylor University sophomore whose younger brother is selling pizza slices this year.
“It's probably my favorite memory from Westminster,” Winter said. “It really was a fun project, and it teaches you as much as a middle-schooler can learn about business.”
While taking a break from cooking grilled-cheese sandwiches, Sam Hill, 13, said he has learned several valuable lessons about operating a venture.
“You learn how to prioritize, and how to deal with customers,” Hill said. “You learn how to deal with stress like when someone doesn't show up.”
When a member of Hill's team in charge of providing ice was sick, his sandwich shop offered only warm soda. It didn't sell, he said.
Many of the lessons the students learn come from experience rather than textbooks, Howell said.
For instance, older classmates who have completed the program often advise the seventh-graders to include both boys and girls on their team, Howell said.
“Do not be in business with your best friends; you will find out things about your best friends that you don't want to know,” Howell said.
Civics teacher Page Hauser, who leads the program along with Howell, said the actual commerce is the students' reward for the study they do leading up to the two-week selling period.
“They see it as the ending prize for all the academic hard work they put into the project,” Hauser said.
As the students cleaned up and headed to Howell's classroom to count the day's take, a voice rang out from the pasta place: “Don't forget to put that $5 on the (tally) form.” The bowls it sold to the Mexican food firm must be paid for.