Nestled along the Clark Fork River in the northeastern reaches of Montana, students at Garden City Montessori school are spread out across the floor holding impromptu photo shoots, earnestly making calculations and debating the price of a new Casio watch. These students aren’t just here to learn. They are running a vibrant marketplace—and they mean business.
Earlier this year, one of the school’s teachers, Alison Chapman, was brainstorming a program that would help teach her first, second and third grade students a little about business. All of a sudden, the light bulb went on.
“I wanted to do something totally out of the box,” said Chapman. “So I came up with the idea, why not start a business on eBay? eBay was a huge part of my life when I was a stay at home mom to help pay bills, so I was familiar with how easy it was to setup. It’s a simple team-building concept that applies the lessons they’re learning in school.”
According to Alison, the students were immediately hooked, as was the school’s director, Bev Morse.
“It’s really building their sense of confidence and self-esteem. They’re quite willing to do the work necessary to get the product ready. I love that the message of ‘hard work actually pays off’ is coming through the program as well.”
The way the business model works is simple. It starts with the students bringing in items from home that they think would sell on eBay. Then, the children break up into groups to take care of different parts of the listing process, from measuring the item to taking photographs to researching the best listing price. Chapman also leads a weekly business meeting to go over items sold, new items that need to be listed—all the while emphasizing a different business concept to the students each week.
But the real genius of this business is what happens once an item is sold. The students donate 100% of their sales to local charities. By adding charitable partners to their listing through the eBay for Charity program, the students can send all proceeds directly to the causes they choose. The students nominate a new charity every month. One month it was a non-profit animal shelter and, most recently, it was a Meals on Wheels program in the greater Missoula area.
“Our community is very giving,” explained Chapman. “I wanted them to learn why charitable organizations need to exist in our towns, and in towns around the world, because without donations they cannot run. They love knowing that they are helping out in some way.”
Because of the success of the program, Chapman and her students are working to keep their store running throughout the summer and hoping schools around the country will adapt the concept for their communities.
“I know there are so many other schools and people that can benefit from this,” said Chapman. “For a lot of kids, it’s hard to learn without being hands-on, and with this program they’re learning traditional school subjects by selling on eBay and they don’t even realize it. They’re putting what they learn into real life.”