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‘Lemonade wars’ turn students into business owners

Students compete with Pop Rocks, soap bubbles and more

Rockford — With a dozen competing lemonade stands set up along the Meadow Ridge Elementary playground, creative and eye-catching marketing was key to attracting customers, the fourth-grade entrepreneurs quickly learned. 

One lemonade stand had a bubble machine, filling the air with soap bubbles to catch the eye. One stand sold raffle tickets and brownies along with a signature lemonade. One offered a variety of lemonades based on “SpongeBob” characters.

At one table called The Sweet Spot, lemonade-slingers Addy Wekenman and Pierce Craig had the sales pitch for their unique beverage down to a science. 

“Come get an experience,” Addy shouted, arms spread wide, a Sweet Spot-branded cap perched backward on her head. “We have (fizzy candy) Pop Rocks inside of the lemonade! It’s sour, it’s sweet, it’s enjoyable, it’s like popping in your mouth!”

“It’s refreshing and it’s different,” Pierce chimed in. “You’ll want to try and see how it tastes! Imagine drinking something that tastes good, both sour and sweet, and also pops in your mouth. It’s an experience.”

Learning Literacy and Economics 

The annual fourth-grade project and friendly competition is inspired by the book, “The Lemonade War,” by Jacqueline Davies, about a lemonade stand competition between two siblings. Each chapter also contains an economics lesson and vocabulary terms. 

Using the book as a framework for their own “Lemonade War,” the Meadow Ridge students propose, develop and launch their own small-business lemonade stands, which are set up for student and parent customers after the school’s spring Field Day. 

“Not only can we do a novel study with this book, like we would do in a literacy lesson, but we can tie in all the social studies and economic components,” said teacher Katrina Burger. “They learn about supply and demand, opportunity and what that opportunity might cost, and how to work together and collaborate as business partners.” 

With three days to construct a business plan, each group of students-slash-business-partners first brainstormed ideas for what to sell at their stands, plus what kinds of incentives they could offer to attract customers. Burger and fellow fourth-grade teacher Melissa Barton put limitations in place to mimic real-life challenges, such as limiting each business to four gallons of lemonade to prevent a monopoly. 

‘It’s exciting to see them learning all these concepts in such an organic, authentic kind of way.’

– teacher Katrina Burger

Once they had a plan in place, the groups put together a formal business proposal for their teachers to approve and their parents – as the ultimate financiers and grocery shoppers – to give permission. 

“Learning to work together has been eye-opening for some of them — and the idea of interdependence,” Barton said. “We talked about how they have to rely on their teammates to bring the things they said they would bring for the business — or, let them know if they can’t, and if they have to come up with another idea. And they’ve really done a great job of that. They’ve put their heart and soul into it.”


Taking Responsibility

For Pierce, Addy and the rest of their teammates, their business plan started with the Pop-Rocks lemonade — the experience — and grew from there. Besides two different types of lemonade and an abundance of Pop Rocks flavors to choose from, The Sweet Spot sold chips, a variety of candy, donuts, lollipops and gluten-free cookies. 

“We have a lot of stuff so that we have a lot of options, in case people didn’t like one thing but then they could buy a different thing,” said Addy. 

“— And we knew there was gonna be people who can’t have certain things, like my aunt can’t have gluten —” Pierce interjected.

“Yeah, so then we have the gluten-free cookies to be, like, semi-healthy, because a lot of it is, like … not healthy,” Addy said. 

Pierce said the most important thing he learned from the project was the idea of taking responsibility for one’s actions, especially when the team’s success depends on it. He was also proud of how well their unique lemonade concoction sold. 

“The second people heard about our Pop Rocks lemonade, we immediately got, like, 10 customers, and then more and more,” he said. “We had tons of customers and we eventually sold out of the Pop Rocks, and that felt really good. It was good, but kind of chaotic, too, because there were lots of customers and only four of us.” 

Business partner Addy, an independent soul, admittedly found parts of the project a little difficult. 

“There was so much planning in advance, and so much supply to think about,” she said. “It’s hard for me to work with people, because I like to do it myself. But, like, I’m trying to be better at it.”

“And she has!” Pierce affirmed. 

Funding a Worthy Charity 

Despite the name “Lemonade Wars,” the competition was nothing but friendly. Each fourth-grade classroom named a winner based on the dollar amount raised, but the classrooms pooled their earnings to give to charity. This year, students chose to donate to Water for South Sudan after reading the book “A Long Walk to Water” about the Sudanese “lost boys.” 

“You do want to prepare them, because you can’t eliminate competition from life, so it’s good for them to congratulate and be happy for those who are the top sellers,” Burger said. “But it’s also a two-sided thing, because they were really excited and invested in the donation component of it, and in that way it’s like everybody’s a winner. 

“It’s exciting to see them learning all these concepts in such an organic, authentic kind of way. That makes me the happiest.”

Alex Lambert, foreground, and Pierce Craig serve customers at The Sweet Spot
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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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