Getting Schooled in Business

By Karen Stein

Two years ago, Traverse City’s Trinity Lutheran School board of directors set out to revitalize the school and push it to the cutting edge of best practices. One of the upshots of the subsequent year of strategic planning and research was the Trinity Treasures school store, which on November 1 celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Trinity Treasures is an in-school supply store that operates three days weekly during the lunch hour, explained Judy Griffin. Griffin is a board member and congregant at Trinity Lutheran Church who – because of her history as an educator for 22 years and principal for 11 years in the Midland Public Schools district – was appointed the director of strategic planning and charged with designing and implementing the recommendations for this project.

“It is a three-year business project for middle school students to learn entrepreneurial skills so they will one day be more qualified to become entrepreneurs themselves or participate in working in a business,” said Griffin. “Sixth graders learn to be workers in the store. Then once those students are in seventh grade, they become managers and train the new sixth grade students. By eighth grade, the students are at chief executive officer level and are involved in the store’s visionary planning.”

After a period of time as a strictly K-5 school, Trinity is phasing back its middle school – the sixth grade returned to the school last academic year, and the seventh and eighth grades will return over the next two years.

The store’s merchandise – generally priced from one penny to $5 – comes from a school store catalog and from shopping trips to outlets, such as dollar stores and the Office Depot going-out-of-business sale. Stock includes general school supplies, school spirit wear such as hats, t-shirts and sweatshirts and, at holiday time, Christmas items so students can shop for gifts for their families.

Intended learning outcomes for this project are threefold: learning to run a business; learning to give back as well as to receive, as a large portion of the profits will be used to fund other projects that arose from strategic planning – an annual outdoor education camp for sixth and seventh graders and a trip to Washington, D.C., for eighth graders; and, finally, recognition of the value of working to earn money and the value of supporting themselves, as students earn a small paycheck for working in the store.

So far, participating students have learned how to handle money and run a cash register, and have benefited from the experiences of school parents with backgrounds in business. Parent Jennifer Hoy has worked in retail for most of her career, including running a children’s consignment shop, and came to the school to teach the students about advertising and merchandising. Another school parent, Christina Schoenow, is a graphic designer who will be working with the students to teach them how to create a logo from their draft designs and will take them on a field trip to the print shop.

“Entrepreneurial skills are at the heart of the American way of life,” said Griffin. “Preparing students for the workplace at an early age encourages a creative spirit and offers a hands-on learning experience in running a business. Students have gained confidence and maturity as they’ve learned to work in the store. It has motivated them to express interest in owning their own business some day. What a relevant way to make learning hands-on and fun!”

Marisa Behrmann, another school parent and marketing officer at Trinity Lutheran, echoes that sentiment. “Trinity’s retail project is a great example of experiential learning at its best. Learning by doing gives real-world experience to the middle schoolers and gives them access to active learning beyond theory. Running a small business teaches them accountability and equips them with new strengths with profitable results.”