By Chelsea Maguire
SHREWSBURY – On a cloudy and chilly recent Saturday at The Grove at Shrewsbury, the parking lot was packed, the sidewalks heavy with shoppers and carol singers. And a group of young students from the Knollwood School in Fair Haven – the FH Gizmos – stood outside the stores hoping to take advantage of the potential customers.
This group of sixth-grade entrepreneurs set up a pop-up shop to pitch and sell a variety of products they created, including Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of New Jersey, custom-made dog tags, custom-carved cutting boards, memory boxes, a tick repellent spray and a cosmetics box.
The FH Gizmos are part of an innovative program at Knollwood School in Fair Haven. Rather than doing worksheets or discussing hypothetical situations in class, these students get hands-on business experience creating and selling products and running a real business.
The class is taught by Chris Aviles, who also serves as the program leader for Fair Haven Innovates. Students at Knollwood can participate in the program with every grade level learning different levels of business education. The fourth- and fifth-grade students are part of the Innovation Lab, where they learn the skills and growth mindset they need to succeed at the next level of the program. The sixth graders, the FH Gizmos, learn about product design and can start their student-run businesses.
Seventh graders are part of a business known as FH Grows that Aviles co-runs with the students, where agriculture and technology are used together not only to grow and sell herbs from their garden but also to solve environmental problems of the future.
Finally, when the students reach eighth grade, they are part of FH Leads, where they can help grow a local business, create a project that will make a difference in the community, or start their own business that they can also take with them after graduation. The profits made from the student-run businesses go toward funding the program, securing its place in the Fair Haven school system. Some of the products also include a social component; a portion of the profits from the sale of the ornaments and dog tags are donated to the nonprofit organizations, Holiday Express and the ASPCA.
“I think one thing the school system is missing is experiences,” Aviles said. “I want my kids to have as much experience as possible,” which Aviles believes will help them be successful in the future.
“We think it builds us up for the future,” said Isabella Branker, a student in the program who was participating in the pop-up shop. “If we have all these skills then we can definitely become successful people.”
The students were excited to be selling their ideas in a shopping center like The Grove for the first time, working together as a team to pitch their products to all the passing shoppers.
“My favorite part is getting to be with my friends while actually becoming successful,” said Caitlin Bush.
“It’s fun to talk to people and tell them what we’ve made and how we make it,” Caroline Griffin added. “It’s amazing to see how many people are supportive of these businesses and how generous they can be.”
Anna Ciardello and Janine Batchler were two of the girls behind a cosmetics box called the Simply Beauty Box which they were excited to share their product with the public. The cosmetics box contains makeup products suited for preteen and teenage girls.
“We first thought about making our own makeup products,” Janine said. “Then we realized, ‘What would girls our age like to use or what are they doing?’ ”
“I would occasionally steal my mom’s makeup for special occasions,” Anna said. “Now, with this, we are doing a YouTube (video tutorial), and for some girls, who might not have a mom to help them, it will be easier for them to learn.”
Another pair of students, Ava Amabile and Amelia Cole, created a natural tick and flea repellent spray. Their inspiration to produce the product began when Amelia’s sister was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness. The girls looked at research done at Ohio State University and found that certain natural ingredients could act as a tick and flea repellent. With this discovery they created their tick and flea repellent from ingredients such as sweet lemongrass, lavender, citronella and witch hazel. They named their product The Simple Spray.
While the students had fun, there is still a lot they have to learn about business.
“I think my favorite part is helping students believe in themselves,” Aviles said. “Even if they’re in sixth, seventh or eighth grade, they can have great ideas and they can take those ideas and run with it.”
This article was first published in the Jan. 3-9 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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