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Students Learn Art of Commerce Before the Bell (March, 2006)

Students Learn Art of Commerce Before the Bell Staley students who attend Leah Gomez’s class know the value of a pencil. It is 15 cents if you purchase it from the Staley Merchandise store in the cafeteria and a really good deal.

“Keep the change,” grins one young big spending customer as he purchases his school supplies from the young lady seated at the cafeteria table and storage bin that makes up Staley Merchandise. “He’s a regular,” says Gomez. “He buys something from us every time.”

This specialized class teaches a variety of life skills. The students, armed with their bright calculators and a bank bag full of change, take turns serving the customers who buy pencils, paper, folders and other supplies at great prices. Overseen by Ms. Gomez, they greet customers, sort and calculate the supplies and then make change.

The students recognize fellow classmates and have made new friends with their regular customers. When their turn is over they do not wander off into the crowd but remain at the table to eat breakfast and visit. Even though the program is designed to expose them to customer service and marketing skills – it is obvious they are also helping the other students.
  The store is open before school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One young man who has moved to the United States recently speaks Spanish. He shops regularly, and the students know to call on a teacher to act as an interpreter for him. He is learning about American currency and each Tuesday and Thursday he practices identifying and saying the names of the dollars and coins he spends.

Nikita Yakimenko is a member of the class. Though he has some physical limitations, his customers stand patiently as he counts out their change, saying the names of the coins and their value to Gomez. He smiles and jokes with friends who walk by the table.

Another student Caleb Hignight is a traveling salesman at heart. Rather than sit at the table waiting for customers to come, he likes to take pencils out into the cafeteria and sell to the kids who might not realize they really want and need a pencil. “He likes to get out there and mingle,” Gomez said. He shows her the inventory he takes away and then he comes back and turns in his profits.

At the beginning of the second semester, the students made signs and promoted their business, adding marketing to their learning process. “First and foremost it gives the students in my class a chance to interact with their peers,” explained Gomez. “The process helps them with social, communication and money skills. Ultimately, it is great for them all the way around.”