In Waldorf education, 6th grade is a time when classes get deeply involved in community service. For many, that means volunteering at food banks, or doing environmental cleanup. But Wim Gottenbos’ 6th grade class at the Seattle Waldorf School spent the past spring developing a lively business that raised $2,000 in profits to support Solid Ground.
“Kids this age are starting to really see themselves,” said class parent Kimberly Hiner. In order to balance that, it is important for the students “to see greater need and the greater world out there.”
For four consecutive Fridays, the class opened shop at the end of the school day, selling their artwork, homemade lip balm, hand-knit mittens, pencil boxes, candles, baked goods and other items to schoolmates and their families. Stunning geometric-colored pencil drawings were printed as note cards and a poster, then marketed through the school newsletter.
Every one of the class’ 29 students created products to sell and took on business functions like marketing, accounting and direct sales. “I told them: ‘Every family has a strength. Find out what your strength is and bring that into this effort.'”
The project drew on many elements of the Waldorf curriculum, including geometry, handwork and business math.
Dean McColgan, Development Director at Solid Ground, spent about an hour with the students talking to them about the role of nonprofit organizations, the importance of community support, and Solid Ground’s mission and services. Dean said, “The project taught basic business principles, like accounting and inventory, but emphasized the importance of giving back to the community. When I presented to the class, I was very impressed with the students’ knowledge and eagerness to learn about the importance of nonprofit work.”
Perhaps a more long-term result of the project was how it created opportunity for conversations about privilege and equity.
“We developed an awareness of people that do not have the wealth and comfort that we have,” said Wim. “These students have breakfast every morning in their homes; they attend a private school. Most have their own rooms and own beds. So we imagine what it is like for kids of the same age who do not have the same things, who do not have breakfast, and must wait at school for their breakfast. Our task is to open the world for them, to help them connect to the outside world.”
“The students were proud of what they accomplished,” noted parent Liz Yaroschuk. “There was a sense of ownership in the business, deciding what products to sell, how much to charge. They were stunned by the amount of money they raised.”
“And,” added Kimberly, “they were incredibly impressed at what Solid Ground does.” Dean hopes to return to the school later this fall and report back to the students on the impact of their investment.