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School Stores Teach Lifelong Skills

This "local shop" can stock merchandise ranging from pencils to tasty snacks, and sell its wares to students, teachers, principals and even the occasional visitor. A school store, however, is more than a "convenience store;" its shelves also are stocked with the materials for building academic and lifelong learning skills. Included: Tips, resources for running school-based businesses.

Poster board, candy bars, pens, notebooks -- all are common wares on school store shelves. School-based stores offer more than just a place to shop for snacks or school supplies, however; they also boost students' academic and life skills through real entrepreneurial experience.

"When building a business, students combine most -- if not all -- aspects of their school education to accomplish a goal," explains Jessica Spear of The Institute for Entrepreneurship, which provides young people with business development assistance. "This reinforces their schooling and teaches them the real-life importance of their education."


"School stores often start with an ambitious business teacher who is trying to get his or her students involved in class," explained Spear.

Michael Baremore, marketing education teacher at Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center in Missouri, is one example. He convinced school administrators that his marketing class would have greater practical impact with a learning lab, leading to the creation of Definitely DECA, the store Baremore's Marketing I class operates. Totally student-run, the store sells school supplies, novelty items, and food. Students "apply theory learned in class in a real hands-on activity," explained Baremore.

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Sixth-grade students operate Nibbles and Scribbles, the school store at Central Middle School in Burlington, Illinois, that teacher Marilee Ferguson runs from her math classroom. "I was looking for a project that would integrate multiple curriculum areas with a real-world context. The school store does all of that -- beautifully!" explained Ferguson, who introduces students to every aspect of retail operation. The students have earned as much as $3,000 to distribute to local charities.

Cindy Hanman, marketing and cooperative education coordinator at Parkview High School in Springfield, Missouri, and advisor to the school's DECA chapter, oversees a successful student cookie enterprise. "Our business is a very small lab in which students learn by doing what is taught in my marketing class," said Hanman. "I try to incorporate actual business operations into every lesson. That makes it real and useable for everyone. Plus, it's fun!"

Starting with a freezer, utensils, tablecloths, hot pads, a limited inventory, and a single oven, the business began small. Now, with three ovens, the store is known for its cookies -- chocolate chip heads the charts. Students have become savvy merchandisers and apply a mix of promotional techniques to sell their baked goods. Cookies sell for two for a dollar.

"Schools are a great place to start a business. Entrepreneurial ventures combine skills acquired in math, social studies, language arts, and science classes."
-- Jessica Spear
The Institute for Entrepreneurship


"When starting a student-run store, start with a goal. It will keep students focused," advised Spear. "Be sure to give students a little bit of independence from one another and from the teacher or administrator overseeing the project. Students show pride in their work when they feel as though they each have contributed to the success of the business."

Each school store featured in this article relies on student involvement in all enterprise operations, from merchandising to maintaining the books. Students make key decisions about store operations and decide what the earned income will be spent on.

  • At Nibbles and Scribbles -- which opens before school, during the 6th grade break time, and during 6th-8th grade study halls -- a board of directors oversees the store's progress and works with students to ensure its smooth functioning.
  • At Definitely DECA, students research and gather product information at the start of the year and come to a consensus on what the store will stock and sell. DECA members apply the store's income to the organization's activities and dues. The store operates from 9:30 to 10:30 in the morning and from 1:00 to 1:30 in the afternoon.
  • At Parkview High, DECA's cookie business operates between classes and at the start of the school day. Hanman noted that she tries "very hard" to leave the cookie business's operations and management to students while facilitating the financial aspects of the business.


"Schools are a great place to start a business," encouraged Spear. "Students market products to their peers and the school provides them with a supportive environment. Entrepreneurial ventures combine skills acquired in math, social studies, language arts, and science classes."

Ferguson underscored the role of the school store in building mathematical abilities. "We learn to count change, determine the percent mark-up for merchandise, balance books, and figure out the amount of goods to buy. There's no better way to teach students basic math skills," she emphasized. She added that students also hone collaborative, cooperative, and decision-making skills.

Hanman's DECA students learn the inner workings of a business. "They must deal with cash, shortages, overages, inventory issues, and customer complaints," she explained. "They take that knowledge on to college, with hands-on experience rather than book driven business concepts. They know whether they can run a business in the future."

Spear summarized the value of a school-based enterprise: "Schools should be excited to feature student-run stores, because they not only bring together students and teachers, but they also have the ability to collectively blend the different aspects of the curriculum in an applicable manner. I believe that students are more excited about learning when they know they will use the information in the near future."