One of the major programs that is integral to the George Washington University School of Business is Lemonade Day. The program is designed to immerse first year business students (myself) in an environment with elementary school children where we literally teach them the proper tools necessary to make a lemonade stand. The idea is that by learning about budgeting, accounting, profit and marketing, these fourth through eight graders will acquire the necessary tools to create and run a successful stand for the official Lemonade Day D.C. This program, which was actually introduced to the metropolitan area by a current School of Business student, is exactly the type of development I was referring to in my Dare to Dream post where I stressed the importance of programs that foster out nation’s young entrepreneurial minds. This past month, I was fortunate enough to try my hand at teaching these very principles.
I traveled to Roots Public Charter School, which educates first through eighth graders. The trek was about thirty to forty-five minutes in which I recognized absolutely nothing; this is either a testament to how insular GW is or to how little I get out. I expected to have children anxiously waiting for our arrival. I can remember how enamored I was with older kids at that age, so I was sure these children would be similar. I thought the students would be eager to learn about the primary business principles necessary to run a successful lemonade stand, and I certainly believed they would be willing to let me teach them. I was wrong, no doubt.
For starters, Roots is a tiny little school off the corner of a busy street. As I walked in, my immediate thought was how little funding the school must have. Not to say the school could not provide for its students, but the classroom seemed to double as a cafeteria/ recreational space and it was cramped. Furthermore, the primarily African American students appeared to have no real interests in the fact that several college students were standing before them. They continued to giggle and play around like any elementary school kids would do, and realistically, I should have expected this. Knowing myself, a reserved and shy character, I knew handling these kids and keeping them on task would be a bit difficult.
When we were introduced to the array of students, it was not clear whether they had known we were coming or had prepared for our arrival. About six tables were set up throughout the room. We helped the students grab chairs from the closet and we proceeded to form small groups so each of us could teach the lessons to a more intimate audience. Fortunately, I sat down with two students, Jalaw and Nikai, both fourth graders who were very much interested in the project.
Jalaw and Nikai were great. Like any fourth grader, when I mentioned the idea of a lemonade stand, their imaginations went one thousand miles per hour thinking of creative themes and designs for their storefront (Nikai wanted to make the lemon on their poster look like a diamond). Their eagerness and excitement definitely helped me because it made my job of asking them questions a lot easier. It was not hard to get them thinking about logistics, supplies, budgeting, etc. because I made the ideas tangible and relevant.
For example, when talking about logistics, Nikai wanted to know how much their lemonade should cost. I didn’t answer, I asked the question right back. He said, “Well, last time I had a lemonade stand we charged people three dollars and I made a lot of money.” While I tried to remain encouraging and positive, I attempted to steer him away from that price, as it was clearly too high given the amount of cups they were trying to sell. Instead, because they had been talking about playing music at their lemonade stand, I told them this, “Let’s put it like this: Who do you plan to sell to? Probably every day people like you and me, right? Especially if you’re going to be selling lemonade outside of a library, do you think normal people are going to pay such a high price for lemonade? If Jay Z came walking down the street, then I’d be with you guys…we could probably charge him $100,000 for lemonade!” By relating a business principle to something they could easily grasp and easily resonate with, they were able to laugh and understand that their price would most likely be too high. This made my time maneuvering in and out of topics much easier and a lot more entertaining.
The best part about Lemonade Day, though, was how I could see the light bulbs turning on in their heads. This was evident with Jalaw. As I continued to teach the two, the way Jalaw was picking up on things that I was saying and then responding back with relevant questions of his own suggested that the wheels in his head were turning. When we reached the point to talk about profit, I did not have to go through it with them step-by-step because Jalaw was working through it by himself with the information we created together. This was reward enough for my Lemonade Day experience. I realized (A) that any person can grasp these principles given the right opportunities, and (B) my skill of being a developer is real. As I taught Jalaw and Nikai, I realized that I do enjoy bringing out the potential in others. I created a stimulating and challenging environment for someone and I saw him improve because of it. If I received nothing else from Lemonade Day, at least I know I want to have more gratifying feelings similar to that.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this program. While it was definitely a foreign experience for me and the rest of the students, I believe it had a greater, more lasting effect on the children. I can remember back to my middle school days in which I attended a private school. We didn’t have any programs that gave us a hands-on experience with any real-life scenarios, like business. Honestly, I had no idea what budgeting was, but clearly, how hard could it have been to learn? Jalaw and Nikai now have a head start on thousands of kids across the United States. They had the opportunity to practice these important aspects of the business world early on and now their wildest aspirations of making a soda company and t-shirt line are more real than when I was ten years old and dreaming of creating a newspaper. Imagination is a powerful tool that should always be accessible no matter what age, but when it is paired with knowledge the combination is creatively destructive. Kids like Jalaw and Nikai, who can dream while remaining pragmatic, are the future of our nation’s innovation and financial prosperity.
By the way, the two surpassed their financial goal by making $149.