WARREN, NJ - Through an innovative 21st century learning project, 7th and 8th grade students with learning challenges at Warren Middle School are running their own business... solving real life problems while utilizing important academic, social-emotional and life skills.

“Teaching staff act as guides, not decision-makers,” says occupational therapist Laurie Donovan who, along with teacher Lisa Carlson, are the project advisers. “Students involved in this business group chose to sell healthy snacks to students in afterschool clubs, music and sports.”

The efficiently-run company (dubbed MMM RJK Snack Company after the first initials of each participant) employs a manager, inventory control clerk, order processors and point of sale personnel. Customers can choose one snack for .75 cents, two for $1.50 or select a combo that includes bottled water, before moving on to the cashier who rings up the purchase.

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The student entrepreneurs collaborate to make a myriad of everyday business decisions, holding weekly business meetings to review goals and progress.

“Students are fully engaged in all aspects of their chosen business,” Carlson says. “Encouraged to think critically, they are required to solve real problems such as how to run their business,” including snack table location, sales methods and how best to reach student and other customers.

The 2-year project, begun in September 2015, integrates skills in core academic subjects, including math and language arts, while promoting the attainment of student individual goals and objectives in areas of organization, study skills, listening, speaking, and other important life skills. Members of the middle school’s Buddy-to-Buddy Club also pitch in occasionally.

“My job is really important. I help organize the inventory and let the manager know what we need to order,” says one 8th grader entrepreneur with an eye toward the future. “This business gives me ideas about what I can do when I start my own business as a YouTuber.”

“I like (the business). It’s fun,” adds another 8th grade business co-owner. “It’s helping me with how to wait on customers. It’s helping me learn how to take an order.”

Technology is used regularly. For example, the students utilize bizkids.com to access sample business plans, career information, financial and investing guides, marketing do’s and don’t’s, and other business resources for young tycoons. The group also uses Google Classroom to conduct basic research, collect data, and work collaboratively. Each works with a Chromebook and/or iPad to research, create and maintain the data.

“I was thrilled when Ms. Donovan sought support for this unique idea to launch a student-driven 21st century skills project. It was truly a cross-curricular collaborative effort to promote creative thinking and problem-solving,” says Candida Hengemuhle, the district’s director of special services. “Having purchased snacks from MMM RJK Snack Company, I can attest this student-run business is running smoothly and, through this experience, students have gained a wealth of knowledge that will be valuable throughout their lifetime.”

Startup funds for the MMM RJK Snack Company were provided by staff donations with plans for the business to become self-supporting through its own sales. To date, the student business venture has raised $100. All proceeds will be donated to homeless veterans, as decided at a business meeting.

Says Donovan: “With research studies indicating that young people with disabilities are underemployed as compared to their peers, there’s a continued need for life skills programs to help prepare our students for life beyond the classroom walls.”


Photo Credit: Warren Township Schools

PHOTOS #1 & #2: (closeup of snacks & signs) - Seventh and eighth grade students with learning challenges are running their own snack business at Warren Middle School as part of an important 21st century life skills lesson.

PHOTO #3 - Members of a 7/8th grade business partnership that reinforces 21st century skills hold weekly meetings to review goals and progress, as project advisor Laurie Donovan listens in. PHOTO #4 - Occupational therapist Laurie Donovan buys a healthy snack as part of a business project at Warren Middle School that reinforces important academic, social-emotional, and life skills.