By Jeny Randall
“And the winner is… Moose on the Loose!” Students cheered and lined up at the ice cream cart for a scoop of the new flavor, a product of collaboration, market research, community partnerships, and, of course, an ice cream machine.
The students attend Saratoga Independent School (SIS), a small Pre-Kindergarten to 8th-grade school in upstate New York. With a middle school (grades 6 – 8) student population of 40, five academic faculty and three specials teachers shared with the lower school, offering a breadth of experiences takes some creativity.
Students and Staff Pitch Electives
Each trimester, faculty, administrators, students, and occasionally a parent, pitch electives to an audience of students in 5th–8th grades. Selections have included coding, ping pong, yearbook, quilting, and stop-motion animation among many others.
In their book What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know (Heinemann, 2014) David Brown and Trudy Knowles reference the Association of Middle Level Educators (AMLE) This We Believe statement: “Youth…deserve opportunities to ascertain their special interests and aptitudes, to engage in activities that will broaden their view of the world and of themselves.”
Electives allow us to provide opportunities for students to share their passions, explore new interests, and hone new skills.
A Small Business Elective: Ice Cream!
During the fall trimester, our Director of Finance Jon Kluth pitched a small business elective to the gathered students. He challenged them to consider what it would take to open an ice cream shop next to a local independent school. Ice cream?!
He had students’ attention at once. “While some talk about numbers and business models is inevitable,” Kluth acknowledged, “that is balanced with role-playing about the differences between small businesses and big companies and brainstorming about what products to offer customers.”
After hearing their options for electives, students submitted their first, second, and third choices. Since electives change each trimester, students participate in three different electives over the year. Students who propose an elective are paired with a faculty mentor who supports the student leader with planning and classroom management.
By October the Small Business Elective was in full swing. Students explored the differences between large companies and small businesses. They unpacked the “language of accounting” to differentiate between assets, equity, and liability and used this knowledge to create a business model.
Learning from a Survey
With this in place, students were ready to conduct market research. They administered a survey during an elective period, traveling from classroom to classroom to meet with students throughout the school. Kluth remembers this as a favorite moment in the elective.
“I was most proud of the way students took [the elective] and made it their own, especially the market research part. That’s when you saw the spark in their eyes. They enjoyed pulling information out and engaging with the younger kids.”
Among the survey questions:
Students also remarked on this process, noting that they enjoyed working with younger children and gathering data.
Students spent the next elective period analyzing the results of their survey. Using their findings and drawing on our school motto, “We take care of ourselves, each other, our school, and our community,” students envisioned their new ice cream flavor. 6th-grader Roxi announced the flavor at an end-of-day meeting,
“We chose chocolate because there’s nothing “vanilla” about SIS and its students. We added chocolate chips because who doesn’t love those?! And a caramel swirl represents our motto because it goes through everything we do.”
For a name, students took inspiration from our school mascot: Thunder the Moose.
Partnering with a Near-by Business
While the idea of designing an ice cream parlor next to an independent school was appealing on its own, partnering with Kaleidoscope Cafe owner Bruce Wadsworth gave students first-hand experience with a small business.
I asked Kluth how the partnership came about. He remarked that it was, “at least partly serendipitous. [Kalidescope] is within walking distance, and I’ve been going over there and had a relationship with Bruce.” While chaperoning a Kindergarten end-of-year field trip, Kluth and Wadsworth talked, “and the idea came into place.”
Wadsworth invited students into the kitchen at Kaleidoscope to create their new flavor. He explained the ice cream-making process to students, and then it was time to get started. “Everyone got to come in and touch the machine.” Students added ingredients, started up the ice cream machine, and then checked to see if they had gotten the taste they wanted.
Students remarked that they enjoyed getting behind the scenes to see how ice cream is made as well as getting to make their own flavor. One student remembers being pleased with the flavor combination of chocolate, caramel, and fudge. Another student remarked, “This is amazing! It should be a permanent flavor.”
What better way to end a trimester of electives than with an ice cream tasting? Wadsworth brought his ice cream cart to the school, and the young entrepreneurs took turns scooping their ice cream, Moose on the Loose, for the SIS community to sample.
Lessons Learned by Grown-ups
While he hasn’t seen an increase in customers yet, Wadsworth has enjoyed building a relationship with the school and getting to know students. “There’s nothing better than seeing a kid’s face light up,” he remarked.
He told the story of one student who came in regularly and always ordered the same flavor. However, after tasting the student-designed flavor, he branched out and tried some of the new and innovative flavors Kalidescope offers.
Connections were what brought Kluth back to electives as well. As the Director of Finance, Kluth remarked, “I’m at school all day but can go a long time without seeing students. I liked having an in-depth interaction with students and seeing them put pieces together.”
The Power of Sampling Electives
We draw instructors for electives from across the school community by design. In a 2009 article “Including All Staff in the Responsive Classroom Journey,” the authors note that when all staff are involved in the education process, they get “to know each other better and to appreciate more fully the unique insights each staff member contributes to their common goal: creating a climate that supports positive behavior and learning.”
As we head into a new trimester, students will forge new connections, try new skills, and step into leadership roles of their own through electives. And as temperatures rise, perhaps more will stop in for a scoop of their new flavor – Moose on the Loose – as the school day ends.
Responsive Classroom staff, “Including All Staff in the Responsive Classroom Journey.” Responsive Classroom. February 01, 2009.
Brown, David F., and Trudy Knowles. What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know. 3rd edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2014.
Jeny Randall is the Middle School Director and language arts teacher at Saratoga Independent School in Saratoga Springs, New York. She is a Responsive Classroom certified teacher. Outside of school, Jeny teaches yoga, reads whatever students send her way, and spends time with her family, outdoors if possible!