Students get dirty raising money for trip

Karen Firpo, a West Rutland fifth-grade student, works at the end of the dirt cup assembly line cleaning cups and inserting spoons and gummy worms.

A group of enterprising young West Rutland students were challenged by their teacher to dream up a business model to help fund extracurricular activities. During that project the students learned that even doing a dirty job can be rewarding.

After being given a small investment, the students returned the initial startup funds in just days and in only a few more days had raised several hundred dollars for next year’s field trip by selling dirt cups.

Deanna Rodolfy is a fifth grade teacher at West Rutland, and for the last half of this school year, she has been teaching in a setting she calls the “Fifth grade manufacturing class.”

“Fifth grade students have been learning about how to run a company,” she said. “They have been learning data research, data analysis, production, profit, revenue and much more.”

The class came up with a logo for their company, which they call the Sunset Valley Company, elected CEOs and made rules of how the company would operate.

“It has been a true pleasure to watch them grow,” the fifth grade teacher said. “It has been wonderful to see them take over their roles as CEOs.”

The students performed market research to determine what products they would have more success selling around the Pre-K-to-12 school.

“Our market research showed that snacks and candy were the most wanted in the school,” fifth grader and head of marketing Grady Johnson said. “After that, we split up into groups and did our own research of what we wanted to make.”

The kids split into five groups and each group came up with an idea that they could make and sell to other students. They researched the cost of the production and determined what their profit margins would be.

Then the five groups pitched their ideas to a ‘shark tank’ of investors made up of school officials and teachers.

“I happen to be one of the sharks in that tank,” West Rutland interim principal Bob Johnson said in his last school board meeting on Monday. “We had to determine, with the amount of time left in the year, which one of the products would turn a profit.”

The products brought before the investors were caramel popcorn balls, ice cream in a bag, dirt cups, rock candy, and muddy buddies. The investors choose the dirt cups and the students went to work making them.

West Rutland students, from left, Grady Johnson, Braden Hogen and Gabriella Davis mad a presentation to the QVUU board on behalf of the Sunset Valley Company.

Armed with $80 in capital to buy supplies, they developed an assembly line to build the dirt cups that consisted of a pudding scooper, someone to add crushed Oreos, more pudding followed by more oreos, and finally someone put a spoon and gummy worm in each cup.

“We decided to sell the dirt cups for $2,” Johnson, the business-savvy fifth grader, said as he explained the company’s methodology. “We looked at how much it cost us to make and we wanted to make some money too.”

The students advertised their dirt cups all around the school with fliers and reminded their fellow students via the announcements each morning of when they could buy them. They were only able to make the cups on Wednesday and Thursday, and so, they sold them on Thursday and Friday. Still, they were wildly successful.

“We sold out everything the first four times we sold,” said CEO Braden Hogen. “We paid back the $80 in the first two days of selling.”

Despite only selling the dirt cups for 10 days, two days a week for five weeks, the fifth grade company made $250 in profit after paying for supplies and returning the investment. There were some challenges, though.

“The waiting time was the worst,” said CEO Gabriella Davis. “Some periods we didn’t sell a lot, like high school lunch.”

The students all said they had fun making and selling the dirt cups and learned a lot about profits and profit margins.

“I was amazed they were able to recoup the investment that quickly,” Principal Johnson said.

The students will use their ‘dirty money’ to help fund a class field trip next year to the Fun Spot in New York, a family park with mini-golf, laser tag and go-karts, but they haven’t ruled out starting the business back up next school semester.

“We are going to talk to the teachers about doing it again next year,” Johnson said. “We enjoyed making them and the students loved eating them.”

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