[Chronicle]

November 20, 2008
Vol. 28 No. 5

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    NKO Charter School second-graders get head start on business school education

    By Deva Woodly
    deva@uchicago.edu
    News Office

      
    Photo by Beth Rooney

    Second-graders at the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School will continue to manufacture their product for the public. The Community Pin Makers developed, marketed and sold presidential election buttons that supported Barack Obama. The companyís CEOs report that the next prototype is under development.
      

    A second-grade business lunch is a thing to behold.

    Students at the University’s North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School recently sat cheerfully chattering and enjoying the McDonald’s fries they’d bought out of the profits from a successful and innovative button-making business they launched in October.

    The Community Pin Makers, nicknamed the Obama Button Company for the successful product that they produced, is a business owned, managed and operated by the talented 7-year-olds under the guidance of teachers Tina Keller and Carrie Walsh.

    This autumn, the second-graders studied how businesses help to build and sustain communities in social studies class. Keller and Walsh encouraged the children to deepen their knowledge about the basic elements of business.

    The students first learned the steps needed to start a company, as well as the departments that help companies run smoothly. The students were encouraged to apply for positions in different departments based on their strengths and interests. “For instance,” Walsh explains, “we told them that the CEO must be organized, a leader, and willing to stand up and lead meetings. We said that if math is your strength, you might want to consider a job in the finance department, where strong math skills are necessary.”

    After the departments were organized, the market research team polled teachers and students in other grades about the products they’d most likely buy. Walsh remembers, “They asked their schoolmates and teachers how many McCain buttons they would buy if they were $1 each, how many they would buy if they were $2.50 each and then they did the same for Obama. When we sat as a marketing team to talk afterward, they very quickly decided that McCain buttons would not sell at this school and that people would buy more buttons if they were cheaper.”

    The second-graders eagerly embraced the data and brainstormed about what should go on the buttons during their weekly “business meetings” in social studies class. The art department drafted prototypes and finally selected two of the best designs, one featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, and the other of Obama alone. Both images appeared under the slogan: “We have a dream. Let’s make it happen!”

    The buttons sold well at $1 each, and the sales team, made up of three outgoing little girls, was proud of its success. “We worked really hard,” remembers Marshawn Porter, “and it was fun, even though we got really stressed out.”

    Their hard work, which also included producing a commercial featured on the school Web site, paid off. They also decided to introduce a price break for buying in bulk. Jaileea Woods, another member of the sales team, enthusiastically informs anyone who inquires about the buttons, “If you buy 10, you get one free!”

    Courtney Charelston, a member of the Human Resources team, commented: “The reason why I think our business is successful is because we all work together as a team. And we do not push, shake, hit or boss people.”

    Now, the ambitious second-graders are considering Community Pin Makers’ next venture, and President-elect Obama is still a favorite subject for new products. The students have more than a casual connection to the Obama family. In 2002, Barack Obama gave the commencement address for graduating eighth-graders; the following year, Michelle Obama delivered the address.

    However, that doesn’t fully explain the second-graders’ interest in Obama, said Ronald Smith, one of two Community Pin Makers CEOs. “We want to learn more about him and talk more about him because he’s finally the President. He would want us to do more than sell buttons.”

    Smith quotes an Obama speech that the students watched during the week of the election, “You have to raise the bar,” he says with conviction.

    So far parents, students and community members have bought 975 buttons. The students will donate their profits to the American Red Cross.

    For more information or to order buttons, visit the Community Pin Makers Web site at http://web.me.com/elemenous/NKO_Second_Grade/Welcome_to_Community_Pin_Makers.html.