Streams

At a Bronx Middle School, a Day of Selling and Learning

Friday, May 11, 2012 - 06:36 PM

In the corner of a classroom filled with wandering students, teachers, parents and guests, Yesica Moro and Grismely Hiraldo made their pitch.

“Are you tired of your sneakers getting soaked in the rain?” asked Yesica, 13.

“Is it annoying to get sneakers dirty every time it rains?” followed Grismely, 12.

“Well W.P.S. has a solution for you!” they said in unison.

W.P.S. is the company behind waterproof sneakers, which Yesica, Grismely and three other seventh-grade classmates dreamed up as part of their technology class at Middle School 223, the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx.

They haven’t yet created the shoes (which, they say, will be available in a variety of colors and styles, and will be impervious to rain, mud and slush). But their pitch revolved around work that they have done: target market analysis, business opportunity assessments, and a chart of potential strengths and weaknesses for their company. A colorful poster behind Yesica and Grismely displayed their work.

Twenty-three other “companies” -- groups of five seventh-grade students -- presented similar pitches to two panels of judges on Friday during M.S. 223’s annual business expo. Each company was judged on the creativity and thoroughness of its business plan. Winners will be announced on Monday.

Each member of a winning team is to be awarded $25, but Nicole Lentino, who teaches students about businesses and entrepreneurship in her technology class, said most students had simply been looking forward to showing off their projects, which they began developing about six weeks ago.

“I think they’re just excited to see everything come together,” she said.

Ms. Lentino develops her curriculum and lesson plans in concert with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit organization that helps schools offer lessons about entrepreneurship in the classroom.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship provides an associate who works with the teacher to support and enhance lesson plans; the company also supplies textbooks. The organization works with 34 other schools in New York City, and has been working with M.S. 223 for five years. There is no cost to the schools.

M.S. 223's principal, Ramon Gonzalez, said the opportunity for students to learn about business, economics and finance was an especially valuable part of the school’s curriculum.

“In our community, financial literacy isn’t stressed and families can be victimized,” he said. “But our goal is to give our students that experience.”

And he was thrilled with the enthusiasm the students were showing about their business plans.

“They got a chance to sell their ideas, their products, to adults,” he said. “It’s great.”

Students did not limit their selling to adults, though. In four classrooms on the third floor, where their plans were displayed, students eagerly pitched their companies and ideas to fellow students, visiting parents and any other visitor that walked by.

“If you get a good sleep, you get a good day,” declared Abubakary Trawally, 12.

Abubakary was part of the Artetic Bedz team, a company that would offer a temperature-controlled bed set. His catchphrase was also printed on the business cards he was handing passers-by.

“You don’t want to go around in clothes that won’t get you anywhere,” pronounced Kevin McGee, 12, while describing why customers would buy the colorful and fashionable dance attire that his company, Live2Dance, would develop.

Living up to his word, Kevin donned a red, white and blue argyle sweater, a white and blue dotted tie, and matching red Converse sneakers.

Behind all the bravado and enthusiasm that students displayed, many were also quick to express an appreciation for what they learned while completing their business plans.

“I knew we had to communicate, but I really learned how to talk to a team,” said Isaiah Joseph, part of the team behind Sports Fest, a nonprofit sports program for children.

His teammate Abdel Ngouloure nodded his head in agreement.

“Making a business is not that easy,” he said. “It can be fun, but it’s not that easy.”

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