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Skywalker Sprouts, Inc.

By Chick Moorman

Pretest on why you would want to begin growing sprouts in your classroom.

To increase students’ knowledge concerning nutrition.

To provide an opportunity for students from an urban setting to produce some of their own food.

To demonstrate to children that food need not be sugary or starchy to taste delicious.

To increase students’ skill in telling time, computing, and determining coin value.

To provide students with a successful experience of operating a business.

To build group pride and a feeling of connectedness.

To allow learning to take place in context rather than isolated from real life.

To provide a structured environment under which children can increase awareness of division of labor, assembly line, sanitation, and supply and demand.

All of the above.

Skywalker Sprouts, Inc., is a business. It is owned and operated by 25 second-graders and their teacher, Sally Rutherford (not her real name), at an elementary school in a metropolitan area in Michigan.

The sprout business germinated in Sally’s mind during the summer. “I’ve always shied away from organizing a business in the classroom,” she told me, “because I felt I couldn’t make the time commitment. We are under so much pressure to raise the test scores that anything fun, interesting, or demanding a degree of internal motivation is frowned upon by the administration.” But Sally raised sprouts for her family during the summer and enjoyed the experience. “I came to see sprouts as an easy process,” she says, “and it creates a nice product. And I am a professional educator. I know I have to get these students involved if learning is going to stick for any length of time beyond the testing period.”

The simplicity of the project was tempting, but would the students enjoy sprouts? Sally decided to check it out. During one of her traditional afternoon fruit breaks, she substituted sprouts for the fruit. The children enjoyed them and Skywalker Sprouts moved closer to existence.

With the students’ taste and interest tested, Sally moved ahead with her plan. A shopping committee was given the task of purchasing supplies. Alfalfa seeds, bought at a local health food store, cost $2.19 a pound. Gallon jars and baggies required an additional expenditure. Sally supplied the front money and the business continued to grow.

A typical sprout harvest lasts one week. Sally begins by soaking the seeds at home on Saturday night. On Monday, she transports the swollen seeds to school, where they are put in gallon jars. Cheesecloth is then placed over the jar openings and secured. Students thoroughly rinse the seeds and spread them around three or four times a day. On the second day, roots appear. Leaves sprout on the third or fourth day. On Thursday, the sprouts are placed under a light source so they will “green up.”

On Friday the sprouts are readied for marketing. Students bag them in three-ounce portions. In assembly line fashion, the seven- and eight-year-olds weigh, bag, staple, and box the sprouts. Orders which were taken on Monday are then filled. Money is collected, counted, and banked.

Initial selling was limited to parents of Skywalker students. Two one-gallon jars were necessary to fill the demand. More recent selling has involved the entire school. Now five one-gallon jars are in operation.

Students rotate jobs every three weeks. Applicants must fill out a form indicating their preferred job, experience, and reasons for applying. Jobs include label maker, cashier, bookkeeper, rinser, cleanup, packager, delivery person, and advertiser. Everyone participates each week.

So far, the project has been a success. Parents report using and enjoying the sprouts. Children have been observed choosing sprouts over candy during school parties. The class has developed a heightened sense of group pride and togetherness.

As with any business, problems and frustrations exist. What do you do with excess crop if all the sprouts are not sold? How do you handle crop failure? How do you explain to prepaid customers you can’t fill their orders because of a broken jar?

Yet, problems breed opportunity. When problems arise, students get to experience the solution-seeking process first hand. They have real opportunities to practice problem solving and overcoming adversity. They get to practice planning, cooperating, and working together to reach a common goal.

A booklet on sprouts was produced by Skywalker for distribution to first-time customers. It details some basic facts about sprouts, lists recipes, and describes the sprout-growing process. On page four of that booklet, one second-grader wrote, “You soak them in jars. And you rinse them many times a day until Friday. Then you sell them.”

Pretest answer:

All of the above.