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By Betty Vanderwielen
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Eighth-Grade Students Venture into Business

 

Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

SLE Outfitters is a new T-shirt business started by Seeley Lake Elementary eighth grade students. They created the logo with the help of local graphic designer Brandy Wyckoff and are currently taking orders.

SEELEY LAKE – Three eighth-grade students in the Jobs for Montana Graduates (JMG) Middle School Program gave a presentation to the Seeley Lake Elementary (SLE) School Board Feb. 20 detailing the student-initiated T-shirt business. The JMG program is incorporated into Michele Holmes' eighth-grade technology class, which focuses on integrating tech skills with job, life and career skills.

In her role as JMG Career Specialist, Holmes gave a brief overview, explaining JMG requires all participating schools to engage in Project Based Learning and provides a small stipend for that purpose.

Holmes explained in a later email, "The idea is to come up with a driving question (or problem) and then work on solutions. In the past, SLE has had trouble with ordering logo/spirit wear due to the minimum orders that many companies require. The students came up with the idea that we could make the shirts ourselves and there would never be a minimum requirement. Our driving question is can a T-shirt shop be successful at SLE. With my major in business education, it was a perfect fit for our class to then use the question to learn about starting a business."

Students did research, made decisions on what to sell, determined pricing structure, established marketing strategies, inaugurated production procedures and decided what to do with projected profit.

Students originally worked in teams to develop a business plan and then Holmes meshed the team ideas into a master plan. While the primary goal was to create a business learning experience for the current JMG students and a potential vehicle for future students in the program, the secondary goal was to promote school spirit. Initially the business, named by the students SLE Outfitters, will produce clothing items bearing a new SLE logo.

Holmes wrote, "The sixth grader who came up with the logo idea was Nicolas Little Coyote. The logo was made viable by Brandy Wyckoff, a local graphic artist, who also volunteered in our classroom earlier in the business planning process to discuss logo design and her career."

Preliminary research by the students determined the primary customers would be SLE students and their parents and school staff, possibly extending to the larger community at some future point. The group identified their competition to be The Branding Shack in Seeley Lake, the Shirt Shop and other businesses in Missoula and online vendors. Students defined their venture's uniqueness as being student run and operated.

Eighth-grade students Sara Stevenson, Clara Treser and Tara Cahoon explained to the school board the structure of their business. Holmes is the manager and will have a "shadow student" who will assist her while learning managerial skills. The business will also have student-run Marketing, Financial, Production and Delivery Departments.

The Financial Department has purchased a heat press machine using the JMG stipend, grant money and student government funds. The group determined merchandise cost, figuring a 20 percent profit increase. They will track total costs, total sales and potential profits using predetermined mathematical formulas.

The Production Department will heat-imprint the logo on three shirt options: black T-shirts in adult and youth sizes and a black and white shirt with three-quarter length sleeves. Initially, production will be on-demand. There is also the possibility of extending production to logo-imprinted sweat pants and sweatshirts in conjunction with the upcoming track season.

The Marketing Department has flyers posted around the school and order forms distributed to all SLE students to take home to their parents. The forms explain the project as well as the products available. The group also has set up an imprinted shirt display in the front of the school. They are considering promotions such as offering a birthday discount or a discount on large quantity purchases. Also under consideration is allowing students to bring in their own garments to be imprinted. The group is also contemplating setting up a Facebook or Instagram site to keep people updated on product changes.

The group projects future JMG classes might set up an SLE Outfitters website and perhaps include products such as greeting cards made by students or sewing or other items created in after school programs. Profits made by the business will go to the JMG program and toward school activities such as the class trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Board members asked the presenters a few questions and then Board Chair Todd Johnson congratulated them on an "awesome job."

 

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