By Molly Perkins
For many students, school is very different this year – online learning has come with many challenges and changes. But that hasn’t stopped a group of Grade 3 students with curious minds from learning important lessons about business during the pandemic. The class is part of a new initiative by the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) called the Social Entrepreneurship Program. It is designed for students, teachers and their volunteer business mentor to create a product or service with all profits going to a charity of their choice. In the process, students experience real-world business concepts and challenges such as acquiring seed money, production, marketing, time management and profit margins. More importantly, the students enhance their skills through meaningful experiential learning far beyond classroom walls.
The Grade 3 virtual academy class is composed of students from three schools – Corpus Christi, St. Brigid and Assumption. It is taught by Samara Somers, who is a virtual teacher at Corpus Christi. She supports the students and ensures they are working hard on developing global competencies and skills for the future. The business coach is Betty Weil, who works with the students twice a week to help encourage and inspire them during business meetings. The program introduces students to the world of entrepreneurship and business, giving them a new perspective and understanding of how their community works while introducing them to local entrepreneurial leaders.
The students learned about what comes with being an entrepreneur and starting a business, as they had to overcome many challenges in developing their start-up. Like any aspiring business, the students had to get seed money. The Grade 3s created video pitches to present their ideas to school principals and councils. All the schools were impressed with their efforts and decided to support their business with start-up funds. Once the students had successfully collected their seed money, they began brainstorming and developing their business. They came up with the idea of small gift bags containing a collection of local products. They created Civitas Smile Bags with a mission to give a bag of happiness to the community. Civitas means community in Latin, and community was the main pillar of their business. Each bag contains chocolate from Cylie Artisan Chocolates on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South, a hand-made tie-dye mask from local maker MamaDye and a shea butter lip balm from a local maker Twenty20 Skin Care. The profits from each purchase go to charity – the students chose to support The Ottawa Mission and Furry Tales Animal Rescue.
The OCSB social entrepreneurship program has partnered with Ottawa-based Shopify which generously donated stores to the participating schools. Civitas Smile Bags Shopify store can be found at civitasbags.myshopify.com. The website has everything customers need to know about the business including its story, goals, purpose and product.
I am a first-year student in the Bachelor of Commerce program at the University of Ottawa. This year, I wanted to do some more volunteer work in my community and found a perfect match with the Grade 3 virtual class. I went to some of the student business meetings and saw firsthand how excited and passionate they were about this project. My role was to capture student ideas and assist in the design of the logos, media and marketing for Civitas Smile Bags. I am incredibly proud to be a part of this student-run business. It demonstrates that there is no age limit on entrepreneurial success. The students have shown me how vital it is to support our community and local businesses during the pandemic. When you purchase a Civitas Smile bag, you are not only supporting young entrepreneurs and local businesses, you are also supporting the students’ chosen charities.
Molly Perkins is a student at the University of Ottawa and associate business mentor for the Corpus Christi Grade 3 students.