E-commerce businesses are booming in the Pittsburgh area — and some of the CEOs are kids.
Michelle David and her fifth-graders at Ramsay Elementary in the Mt. Pleasant Area School District, sell custom coffee mugs, water bottles and other items online at Eagle Street Marketplace. They’ve shipped their products to eight states and Canada, but they’ve experienced a few bumps in the road along the way.
“Like Bob Ross, we don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents,” says student Landon DeFilippo.
Real World Scholars, a San Diego-based nonprofit, gives K-12 students across the country authentic hands-on work experiences. Through its EdCorps platform, pupils can run an online company from their desks. Since launching the program five years ago, more than 450 clubs and classrooms have participated.
“What’s neat is when teachers can integrate the business into the required curriculum,” says Christen Dunn, program consultant for EdCorps Greater Pittsburgh Region.
At Ramsay, David enjoys watching her students’ confidence grow.
“They take pride in the business they are building,” she says. “I love how the students recognize each other’s strengths and look to each other for help. My classroom is forever changed due to my EdCorps experience.”
Locally, 38 EdCorps businesses are operating as part of the Remake Learning Network. They hope to boost that number to 100 by the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Over at Jefferson Hills Intermediate in the West Jefferson School District, Adam Gebhardt is integrating art and technology. His students create 3D-printed goods that his fourth- and fifth-graders can sell online at the TJ3D Store.
The (iSh) Co. at Elizabeth Forward School District is the area’s most seasoned EdCorps location. Now in its fourth year, Megan Smith’s budding entrepreneurs are making everything from vinyl banners to scrunchies, donating much of the profits to charity.
In the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, Kristy Frohliger and her 29 fifth-graders at Whitehall Elementary co-own BW Creations. Each Monday and Thursday, interested kids come to school 45 minutes early to learn about running a business. The product they chose to sell? Phone grips.
Students learned how to design phone grips (like pop sockets), print out their design on a sublimation printer, attach it to a metal disk and use a heat press to adhere the image to the disk. Then they package their product for sale. Starting Oct. 24, they’ll sell their phone grips for between $8 to $10 at events throughout the school year.
The kids will be in charge of the money, including credit card sales. Part of the funds generated will go to FurKids Animal Pet Rescue.
Over the past three years, EdCorps students have donated $16,000 to several community organizations.
Every spring, educators apply to EdCorps. If accepted, they launch their business in the fall. EdCorps provides up to $1,000 in start-up funding and a tool kit on how to run an e-business. The platform is student-driven (teachers are there to provide guidance), putting their problem-solving, collaboration and creative skills to the test. Kids are encouraged to reach out to the community to get feedback.
Some EdCorps are wildly successful.
The Be the Kind Kid movement started in 2016 at Avonworth Primary Center when two first-graders approached teacher Maureen Frew about starting an after-school “making” club. They kicked-off JAM Enterprises by making #bethekindkid shirts. Their venture is now a student-run nonprofit organization with 50 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and they’re spreading their message of kindness to other schools.
Some ideas don’t take off, but Dunn says that’s all part of the learning process. She was an entrepreneurship teacher who helped her seniors run a T-shirt business. It was a rocky road to financial gain.
“We’re not all about the numbers. We are about the learning journey,” Dunn says. “Sometimes, that means they have to experience failure. It’s a lesson you can’t get from book learning. They’re learning in real-time.”
On Dec. 7, 10 EdCorps student businesses will show and sell their wares at Handmade Arcade at the David Lawrence Convention Center. The event is just another way of giving kids a taste of life in the workforce.
“We’re impacting about 1,300 students this year,” Dunn says. “Maybe some will go on to be entrepreneurs or at least understand business better, no matter what career they go into. I’m glad we get to influence their early learning development.”