“A laptop for every student” seems like a hollow campaign promise of days long gone, but from the lips of Marcus, a student at the Troup Magnet Academy of Sciences in New Haven and a staff member of the Little Economists’ school store, it is a far-off but worthy goal of some of the students involved in the program.
The Little Economists were formed last year by Andrew Klaber ’04. He said the purpose of the program is to foster “entrepreneurial, business and consumer skills” in inner-city students, who typically are not exposed to such information. Grades five through eight attend the Troup Magnet Academy of Sciences, a public school on Edgewood Avenue.
The student-run snack store within the school is one product of the Little Economists program.
“The kids are deciding what to sell, the prices, the advertising — and being involved in the act of commerce,” Klaber said. “These are very complex ideas; we’re planting an interest in entrepreneurship where [there] otherwise might not be one.”
As a registered member organization of Dwight Hall, the Little Economists organization receives funding from Yale to give weekly lessons to William Frank’s eighth-grade class. Klaber said topics of the lessons include understanding the nature of credit, how to write checks and how to open accounts. His interest in the issue of the link between business math skills and financial standing was sparked when he read a book entitled “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”
“Children from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds don’t learn about money [as much as wealthier children],” Klaber said, describing the book. This disparity can produce a cycle that discourages schoolchildren from paths leading to entrepreneurial ventures, he said.
Last year, when Klaber started the project in hopes of erasing this educational disparity, he began giving lessons to the same seventh-grade class that he now teaches at the eighth-grade level.
“[The school store] is the fruit of our labor,” said Christine Lee ’05, another Yale student involved in the Little Economists.
Planning for the school store began at the beginning of the school year, and it opened on Friday. The store specializes in the forbidden delicacies of youth: soda, candy, and chips, all reasonably priced, compliments of Dwight Hall.
Klaber said he would like to see the program spread citywide.
Little Economists is registered as a nonprofit organization, so whatever profit the store turns will go towards the school, not the organization. Lee said the profits of the store will fund a school beautification project.
Students tending the school store had other ideas, suggesting that the money go to either their own wallets, a bigger gym, a recliner or the aforementioned laptops.
“The kids love Andrew,” Lee said. “[And] the kids love [the program] because it gets them out of class, but they’re learning, too.”
Carl, an eighth-grader, described the mathematical foundations of the school store. He said Klaber and other Little Economists leaders brought a receipt to math class to teach them how to calculate the pricing of the store’s items.
“We don’t know what the reaction’s going to be, but it’s a good math experience,” Frank said.
Moments after the bell rang, the teacher’s doubts about the project’s popularity disappeared when students stormed the school store. The inaugural transaction occurred when Cornell, a sixth-grader, bought three candy items. The school store was not just satisfying a sweet tooth, however; it was targeting a serious socioeconomic problem.
But when a student asked Marcus what the point was, his approach was more simple: “Getting laptops. You want laptops, right?”