First grade students at Normandy Elementary School and fourth grade students at Westerly Elementary School have had a busy year learning about math, science, social studies — and how to start their own business.
First grade students in Diane Poretsky’s first grade class have teamed up with fourth grade students in Barb Woodburn and Mary Jo Mahall’s fourth grade class to create The First-Fourth Keychain Co. Poretsky is Woodburn’s daughter, and has been working with the company for the past nine years.
“We hope [the students] learn teamwork, about how much you can do when we all work together,” Woodburn said. “We hope they learn how to mentor a buddy [and] we hope they can see the benefit of being a young entrepreneur.”
Normandy Elementary School serves students in Kindergarten through Second Grade. Westerly Elementary School hosts students in third and fourth grade
“It’s really fun,” said fourth grade student Elise Grodek. “When we did the big, long two-and-a-half hour keychain making, I got to talk to my friends, talk to my buddy — and the keychains were really fun to make. I like making up different patterns and my buddy was really good at making up pretty patterns.”
Elise liked working with her buddy, Isabel. “She’s really funny… she’s really good at making different patterns on the keychains and she’s really helpful.”
The First-Fourth Keychain Co. started in 1995 when state requirements changed to mandate economics be taught in fourth grade, Woodburn said.
“When the state said part of the curriculum would be economics, I first thought, ‘Yuck! What does a nine year old want to know about economics?’ It sounded so college,” Woodburn said.
When the First-Fourth Keychain Co. first started, students made keychains out of wooden disks, which they hand painted with different symbols, like the mascots for their schools and local sports teams. This presented problems, since the wooden disk keychains were so time consuming to create.
“You couldn’t make too many,” Woodburn said. “We needed a shift in the production, so we switched to beads and rings.”
Throughout the school year, students take turns traveling to Normandy and Westerly as they work to build the company. They have discussions about what is needed to start a business, including entrepreneurship, capital goods, labor and land. Classes must also decide on the price for each keychain.
This project also fulfills the first grade criteria of learning “wants vs needs,” as keychains can be seen as both a want (something pretty to hang off your backpack) and a need (something to help ensure you don’t lose your house key).
The students then handmade about 1,400 keychains, marketed them and next, will sell them. This year, they will be selling keychains on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9.
Students pair off into groups of four to market their keychains in classrooms. Students give a small presentation on the keychains and pass out fliers.
“We split the talking and gave keychains to the first graders to put on their hands,” Elise said.
Elise shared a funny story of going back to Normandy Elementary School to hang posters advertising the keychains. “[Isabel] was telling me where to go and where everything was, but I [already knew] where all the stuff was.”
Keychain themes include rainbow, toys, animals, patterns, glow in the dark and sports among others. Keychains are made from 5-inch cords, a keyring and a variety of beads. Each keychain costs $1.
Profits are used to buy company shirts for next year’s class, the bus drivers that transport the students between Westerly and Normandy and pay for a company picnic. “This year, we’re going bowling,” Woodburn said.
The remainder of the funds will be donated to Fill This House, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the living conditions of local youth aging out of the foster care system. Each year, between $150 and $300 are donated to a charity.
Teachers chose to pair first and fourth grade students for this project to give fourth graders a chance to be a mentor and a positive example of an older elementary school student, said Woodburn.
“It helped to build a little friendship, too,” Woodburn said. “So when they see each other at the Bay Village Pool, or the Walgreens, the first graders eyes would get really big and they’d say to their mom, ‘that’s my fourth grade buddy!’”
The teachers credit the longevity of the program to the benefits it offers the students as well as the student's excitement for the program.
“When I tell my first grade class they’re going to be seeing their buddies, they get so excited, they cannot wait,” Poretsky said. “They also get very excited about making keychains.”
Classes begin getting together to form the First-Fourth Keychain Co. in October and November and make the keychains on two separate days in December and January. Keychains are sold the second week of February.
This year, 42 students are involved in the project, 21 first graders and 21 fourth graders, said Poretsky. The keychains are sold out almost every year and the company raises between $1,200 and $1,400
“I actually love making keychains,” Elise said.
Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 440-871-5797.
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