If you ask the fourth-graders at Cedar Creek Elementary School in Olathe, the next big product on the market could be a pocket you hang on the wall, a bathroom-based entertainment system or a shirt with designs printed both on the inside and the outside.
They presented their product ideas and business plans last week as part of the Your Piece of the Pie program. It’s a four-session educational activity developed by The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City to invest in preparing future entrepreneurs.
In the last four years, it’s given about 4,000 students in fourth- through sixth-grade classrooms across the metro a taste of what it means to be an entrepreneur and what challenges they might face starting a business. The bank worked with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s office of financial literacy to develop the curriculum.
Other community partners for the program include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, KCSourceLink and the Mid-Continent Public Library.
“We all came together to identify ways we could engage students in an interactive way to help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset,” said GiGi Wolf, lead community/public affairs specialist at the bank.
Wolf said the four-lesson curriculum ties in Kansas and Missouri state educational skill requirements. They’ve presented the program, with the help of volunteers, in Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas and Jackson and Clay counties in Missouri.
“They’re having the opportunity to hone some really important skills that will serve them regardless of what career they chose,” Wolf said. “Through the program, they have the chance to exhibit leadership skills, teamwork, written and verbal communication and the public speaking component that comes at the end.”
The name of the program comes from a children’s book the students read called “Sweet Potato Pie” about a farming family whose crops all die — except for the sweet potatoes. The family comes up with the idea to make and sell pies to get the money they need to pay off their loan from the bank.
From the story, students learn about what you need in a business, including various resources, an understanding of the marketplace and ways to reach an audience. Then, they take those concepts and apply them to their own product idea.
“We challenge them not to just recreate something that already exists. … We ask them to solve a problem that’s in the community, school or home, and their idea has to be an original idea,” Wolf said.
Grace Yeager, Kenyon White and Lillian Meier, all 10 years old, came up with an idea for a pocket that attaches to a wall with Velcro for extra storage.
“This was kind of like kids’ Shark Tank — guppy tank,” Lillian said.
Kenyon drafted his grandma to help them make their prototype pockets for the presentation, and Lillian said she’s been inspired by their project to learn how to sew.
The three chose to work together because they’re already good friends. Still, they didn’t agree on everything.
“I enjoyed having business arguments instead of real arguments,” Grace said.
Presenting their project to a group of their peers, school administrators and folks from the bank was no big deal for them.
“My teacher prepared us very well,” Kenyon said. “She had us practice a lot, and she guided us through it and told us not to do a whole bunch of crazy transitions. Like, they’re cool, but they take up a lot of time, and they don’t look as professional.”
These projects were no game for Cedar Creek’s fourth-graders. One project featured a T-shirt printed with designs on both the inside and outside so the user could wear it twice to cut down on laundry. By the time they presented their idea last week, the students had already sold at least one.
“Being able to see the students’ minds and their thoughts in action, coming to life, you can tell by the way they prepare for some of these presentations that they are really invested in these ideas, even though they’re sharing them in a classroom setting,” Wolf said.