Students learn to be bean counters

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Montessori kids start business selling vanilla

By Deb Hurley Brobst

The tantalizing aroma of vanilla wafted through the Montessori School of Evergreen’s Marshdale building last week as middle-schoolers tempted family members with vanilla-laced recipes in an effort to entice them to buy the flavoring.


They also provided sample bottles of Madagascar vanilla, which they are bottling under the name “One World One Bean — All Natural Vanilla.” The students hope to sell it at first to the school community, then branch out to offer it at area stores.

At the vanilla-tasting event, the 44 students made everything from tomato-basil soup to vanilla balsamic chicken to sweet-potato casserole, in addition to the more traditional vanilla-inspired dishes such as fudge and cookies.

The students are running their organic vanilla business as a culmination of the Young Entrepreneurs Program, or YEP, as it’s usually called, which is designed to allow students to create a business from start to finish. They plan to donate 10 percent of their profits to an organization that will help the endangered Madagascan chameleon.

The business venture started at the beginning of the school year, when students divided into groups such as product development, finance, marketing, sales and giving back, and each group worked on its portion of the business.

Seventh-grader Ben Beese said starting a business has been a good learning experience.

“At the beginning of the year, we had local entrepreneurs speak to us about how their businesses worked, and that gave us a lot of insight,” Beese said. “In January, we tried to determine what we wanted to do.”

Ben is on the leadership team, which is tasked with keeping the business on the right track.

Other groups researched possible products, determined how to finance their business, worked on marketing, including the taste-testing event and a website, met with area businesses to find outlets for their vanilla, and researched organizations that will benefit from donations.

The students learned that many things must be considered throughout the process. They also have learned that starting a business is not easy.

Helene North, a Montessori School of Evergreen teacher and director of the YEP program, said creating a business helps teach students 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

“This is a hands-on, real-life program,” North said. “They have learned how to create a business and what to expect in that process. They have learned that it’s not easy to start a business, and there are many facets to it.”

The vanilla comes from a vanilla manufacturing plant in St. Louis. The students designed their logo, found a place to buy bottles, and created a process to bottle and seal the flavoring into 4-ounce portions, which they do themselves in the school kitchen. They will sell the 4-ounce bottles for $11.

The students had the vanilla-tasting event last Tuesday as a marketing effort to teach their families that vanilla is more than a flavoring for desserts. It can be used in a variety of dishes. They figure if people use more vanilla in cooking, they will buy more.

In addition, teaching students about vanilla became part of the curriculum in all subjects. For example, in science the students learned about the vanilla plant and the vanilla bean, and about the sense of smell, especially the effect aromas have on people’s brains.

In social studies, they learned how humans transform crops such as vanilla into commodities. In English, they wrote plays about the pirates of Haiti, who steal commodities such as vanilla.

The students are almost ready to begin selling their product, and they have created a website about the vanilla and the work they have done to start the business. Several students have blogged about their experiences.

The website to learn more about the program and to pre-order vanilla is www.oneworldvanilla.com.

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.HighTimberTimes.com for updates.