CLARENDON — Monday morning, students in Mike Lannon’s fifth-grade class at Clarendon Elementary School talked shop with guests Gov. Phil Scott and Sen. Brian Collamore.
“I think it’s important to talk to them about the challenges of the state and opportunities as well,” Scott said. “I really enjoy speaking with the kids, and I think coming to the schools is really important. They really are the future.”
It all started with fifth-grader Olivia Graham, COO of the Clarendon Little Co., a business created recently by Lannon’s class and sustained by a series of projects the student entrepreneurs take on. Initiatives include creating tourism opportunity in Vermont, creating films they plan to show at the Paramount, and even building robots that respond to voice recognition software — or as Graham said, “a better Alexa.”
“They’re putting together budgets, business plans and marketing — all for this mock business,” said Sean Ruck, communications specialist for the Mill River Unified Union School District.
But Graham wanted some expert influence, so she wrote a letter to the governor asking for his input as an entrepreneur and former co-owner of DuBois Construction. Scott was all too happy to dispense his advice to the classroom full of young minds.
Scott talked about the need for workforce experience in the STEM fields, and cited GE and UTC as readily available job opportunities — but only for those with proper education and experience, as companies like UTC offer starting salaries at $100,000.
“Your teacher, he’s telling you there are some great jobs in the state — but for $100,000, you need to have a really good education,” Scott said. “STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — focus on those areas, and you’ll do great things.”
Graham said Scott encouraged her to keep the faith as a prospective entrepreneur.
“I liked the tools that he gave us to help build a business,” Graham said. “He talked about how we could build interest, and how he started out. He explained how we can make it as a business, and not die down.”
Scott spoke about changing markets, and cited how a safety pin company in Chelsea remained the only one of its kind due to a technological shift away from diapers fastened with safety pins.
“You have to be able to grow and change to what the consumer wants,” Scott said.
He spoke to the students about the importance of acquiring knowledge in their chosen field of interest.
“You have to find what you like to do,” Scott said. “You need to find your passion.”
The students in Lannon’s class are doing just that. Although the Clarendon Little Co. is a school project, each of the students decides how they want to contribute to a company that generates revenue, which the students choose to use for new playground equipment or even extra recess time.
“They have to be able to read and write at a high level to complete these projects,” Lannon said. “These kids know more about this classroom than I do.”
“We’re supposed to,” said elected classroom judge Summer Cichon.
Graham’s contribution is a robot, named “Robert the Rover,” an obstacle-avoidance robot that she said can help people with mobility issues, and has already generated $150 in stock shares. Teachers and students can invest in Clarendon Little Co. for 75 cents per share.
“I have over $10 in stock,” Graham said. “I have to have the most stock or else they can throw me out.”
The students spend six hours every day working on their prospective parts of each project.
“We have corporate divisions,” said class governor Padon Lynch. “All of our divisions are based on our projects.”
“We make money in this classroom,” said 11-year-old Sophia Buck, student legislator and vice president of the student council. “It’s either go big, or go home.”
The students said they remembered two years ago, when their third-grade classes consisted of traditional lecture-based lessons.
“We didn’t get to choose what we wanted,” Graham said. “Now, we use our time wisely.”