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Making masks more fun

Successful student-run business gives kids the opportunity to learn basic life skills

Northview — It was billed as a “just for fun” activity, but tie-dying their own face masks was both a creative and practical way for some East Oakview developmental kindergartners to hone fine motor skills and practice patience, teamwork and responsibility.

Savannah Barksdale carried a plastic basket full of supplies out of her classroom and past the playground to a sunny patch of grass. After being helped by teacher Dana Calhoun into plastic gloves, Savannah and classmates Ben Knape and Kingston Borton got to work squirting white face masks with liquid dye in colors they chose.

“I think it’s great to give children new experiences, and most children learn best from hands-on experiences,” Calhoun said.

Highlands Middle sixth-graders Emma Christy, left, and Gracie Kimball with the sign they made for their corporate headquarters (courtesy)

Making their own custom face masks “gives the child ownership over the colors they choose and the pattern they want to use for the dye. So it might be their favorite mask to wear.”

Supporting Very Local Entrepreneurs

Calhoun spent about $100 in annual parent-teacher committee classroom funds to purchase the masks and tie-dye kits, but the origin of the company from which Calhoun purchased them has roots in the district. 

Mask Makeover was started over the summer by Highlands Middle School sixth-graders Emma Christy and Gracie Kimball, both of whom attend school virtually this year. 

The idea “just kind of popped into our minds,” Emma said. The pair spent hours on video chat developing a business plan, researching where to buy materials and plotting how to get the word out.

“It’s been really amazing to watch them both grow,” said Jen Christy, Emma’s mom. “They created all the spreadsheets to track their inventory … they both have dance (class) on top of it, so it’s been challenging for them.”

Dana Calhoun (courtesy)

And it’s not the first business for Emma and Gracie, friends since the second grade. While they were fourth-graders at North Oakview Elementary, the pair participated in a market day, where they learned about economics and entrepreneurship. Emma’s business: selling homemade cupcakes and stress balls. Gracie’s business: homemade chewing gum.

“We really liked being able to handle things on our own,” Gracie recalled. “We learned a lot about confidence and responsibility. And we had lots and lots of fun.”

Now that they have another successful business underway, Emma advises hopeful entrepreneurs that “you really have to keep up with all the inventory, and make sure the orders are getting done.”

Bottom line, said Gracie: “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

Emma said they have had around a dozen orders for probably 100 kits and counting, and have made about $200 profit so far. The plan: to put it toward doing “fun activities together,” she said, such as crafting “or painting on different things.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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