MODESTO — While helping the rain forest, fifth-graders at Virginia Parks Elementary School in south Modesto also are learning a lesson about the regulations and strategies of the business world:
It's a jungle out there.
Teacher Karen May said the real-life lessons included a lot of research, writing and 'rithmetic.
"We do a lot of working with decimals, and money is certainly a decimal close to their heart," May said with a chuckle.
MISSION The class named itself the Earth Restoration Team and decided to raise money for the rain forest after reading about Swedish schoolchildren who did that, Marcus Robinson said. Mason Foster said classmates talked at recess and added anti-malaria efforts in Africa to the list.
"In Africa, kids get bitten by bugs and get malaria. So we decided to buy mosquito nets so they don't have to be afraid of being bitten in bed," Mason said.
The students chose sales of snacks, crafts and other small items as their fund-raiser.
ACCOUNTING Jacqueline Rodriguez said the class needed permission to hold a fund-raiser, and the principal said the kids had to get approval from the school's parent-teacher club to manage the money. As a nonprofit, the club can give money to other nonprofits, even in a faraway rain forest.
Layla Alsamiria said the class had to write a letter to the club, and she helped give the oral presentation. "We were all very nervous," Layla said, but the class got the club's backing.
Mason was appointed ERT treasurer.
REGULATIONS The students tackled the California Education Code. Snacks had to follow nutrition rules. Sales couldn't happen during school hours.
"There are lots of rules about raising money, rules about times, rules about nutrition," May said.
Snacks that fit the bill included crackers, corn nuts, cereal mixes, apples, tiny tangerines and bottled water. The big seller was hot chocolate.
"It had to be not too many calories. It had to be low-fat," said Ryan McDowell.
PERSONNEL The cocoa also had to be made with hot water, overseen by a grown-up volunteer, part of the staffing that had to be arranged.
That was "personnel manager" Xavier Williams' job. Class members signed up to work before or after school, and he put their names on a pencil-and-paper chart. Parents pitched in, too.
INVENTORY The class decided to diversify their merchandise, adding toys, jewelry and craft projects. Using donated cash the team bought colored duct tape for pencil "roses," paper for origami stars and ribbon for hair bows. Food and bottled water were donated by parents and local businesses.
MARKETING Dalton Durossette made a cardboard sandwich sign and wore it around campus during recess and after school.
He read an announcement over the loudspeaker system, explaining the purpose of the sale, giving the three days it would run and the times. The rain forest "is like the Earth's air conditioner" and the children of Africa need help, the announcement read. Hearing himself read was "weird," Dalton said.
CROWD CONTROL Efforts were so successful the class had to work out ways to manage the crowd, setting up long tables to keep people in line and raising and lowering a flag to allow people in as others came out.
"We wanted to keep straight lines. We got chairs, but that didn't go so well," said Cesar Alvarez.
SALES A giant stuffed animal raised $45 in 50-cent raffle tickets. Most items were priced from 25 to 75 cents. Kids had to add up purchases and give change.
Treasurer Mason counted the cash and tallied the results on a thermometer chart that was colored in by the second day. By the end, he had made two more charts as sales at the pre-winter-break event kept exceeding expectations. Total take: $814.
CUSTOMER SERVICE Personal thank-you notes are going out to donors.
DISBURSEMENTS After raising the money, the class had to choose between dozens of charities devoted to the two causes. At last, May said, she chose the Rainforest Alliance, which buys land and educates local farmers in sustainable agriculture, and UNICEF, which she thought had the best price and track record in buying mosquito nets for Africa.
Each will be sent a check for $407, but the best value may have been the education. Asked how many were considering a future in business, about a third of the class raised their hands.
"There's great satisfaction at the end of the day. They're very empowered. By their action, working together, they can do so much," May said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter, @NanAustin.