Burnaby students' business project pivots amid COVID-19

Budding entrepreneurs at Burnaby’s Sperling Elementary School were ready to put their heads together this year and come up with the next big business idea.

Then a worldwide pandemic hit.

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The original plan for Danielle Millar's Grade 6 and 7 students to work in groups and come up with different businesses to start up was kiboshed by COVID-19 when in-class instruction was suspended in mid-March.

But the students forged ahead with an all-class project anyway, even though they were stuck at home. 

They ended up learning to sew masks and began marketing them on the first day back at school last week.

“We couldn’t think of any other product that was relevant,” Millar said.

student mask project
Sperling Elementary School Grade 6/7 teacher Danielle Millar speaks to Grade 7 student Monicah Anyegah last week as Millar sets up a table to sell masks students have made for a business project. - Cornelia Naylor

Her class had been set to participate in the Business of Our Own program developed by Junior Achievement, a non-profit that promotes financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship among students in grades 4 through 12.

“They were, from the beginning, extremely interested in the business program,” Millar said of her students, “so it wasn’t that hard to shift and say, ‘OK, well we can still do this.’”

Millar shot how-to videos to show kids how to operate their sewing machines and craft the masks.

Those who didn’t have access to a machine at home were loaned one from the school’s sewing club.

“I knew how to do a basic stitch, but I’d never actually sewn anything together,” Grade 7 student Monicah Anyegah said, “so it was pretty tricky to begin with because, if your first project is a bunch of masks, sometimes it’s hard to begin with that.”

Anyegah said her mom was enthusiastic about the project because she is a business woman herself and had had the sewing machine out anyway to sew a quilt.

Grade 7 student Pedro Lopes, who sewed 12 of the masks, was one of the students who loaned a machine from the school.

“It wasn’t perfect, but it got better,” he said of his sewing skills.

Amanda Young, another Grade 7 student, said she’d never sewn in her life but was inspired by the philanthropic nature of the enterprise (all the proceeds are being donated to the Vancouver Aquarium).

“I wanted to help my community through this crisis, and it’s kind of interesting learning new stuff, making those masks,” she said.

Students set up a table in a courtyard at the school and started selling them on the first day back last Monday.

Parents and others associated with Sperling Elementary can also pay for the masks online through the School Cash Online system.

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