Teaching business skills

The TREP$ program, which began in West Milford in 2006, gives kids the tools they need to succeed in business and in life.

26 Aug 2019 | 01:35

By Mike Zummo

At an early age, school children are learning what it takes to run a business.

They’re learning it from the TREP$ program

It started at the Paradise Knoll School in West Milford, when then 9-year-old Jack Romano wanted another Lego set, and his mother Hayley encouraged him to earn the money for himself.

He booked space at a local vendors’ market and began producing hand-stamped wrapping paper. Needing more help, he brought a long his friend Hans deWaal and they each made about $45.

Recognizing the lessons their children learned, Hayley Romano and Pamela deWaal established TREP$ in 2006, and began marketing the program to other schools. It’s grown and is widespread throughout the area as an after-school program.

Kelly Fedanych, an enrichment teacher at the Franklin Borough school, administers the program as a class.

It’s administered as an afterschool program in the Florida Unified School District in New York, as well as the Helen Morgan School in Sparta and the Upper Greenwood Lake Elementary School in West Milford.

“I think it’s one of those really awesome programs where there is no downside to it,” said Matt Grogaard, who advises the club with Morgan Bleakley in Sparta. “There’s no reason why every school shouldn’t have it. It’s one of those things that is able to teach kids life lessons and encourage characteristics we don’t always get to do in the classroom.”

Basic skills teacher Melissa Bergh, who advises the club at Upper Greenwood Lake with fourth-grade teacher Kelly Comerford said they start the program with a meet-and-greet where they show the students pictures of the previous year’s TREP$ Marketplace and talk to them about the code of conduct, which the students have to sign.

Once they’re introduced to the program’s concept advisers say the most challenging part of the program comes next for students, picking a product to sell.

It’s more than just deciding what product you want to create. They have to see if it’s economically feasible.

“They need to consider the consumer’s needs and wants, as well as fair and profitable pricing,” said Sandra Correa, a teacher at Golden Hill Elementary School in Florida, N.Y.

Grogaard said another challenge for the students is picking a product that is realistic to create and sell.

“They come in with these grandiose ideas, and we have to narrow them down to what is realistic,” he said.

To that end, the students and their advisers discuss business plans, profit margins, how long it takes to make the products. If children learn about getting loans for business. If they get a loan from their parents or grandparents, they need to know how they’re going to pay it back.

In Franklin, the entrepreneurs present their prototypes to eighth graders and get feedback from them. From there to they move on to marketing their products.

They’re not just learning business skills, either. They’re gaining other skills like public speaking. Comerford said, “They’re becoming more confident themselves. You see a boost in confidence in themselves and they’re speaking for themselves.”

TERP$ won the New Jersey PTA’s Champion for Children Award and was a finalist of the National PTA’s Phoebe Apperson Hearst Award. The TREP$ marketplace is held at the program’s conclusion,

that’s where the students have the chance to sell their products and that’s where their business thrives or fails.

“The energy at the Marketplace is electrifying,” Correa said. “The students proudly showcase their products and share their journey with consumers.” Fedanych, who has been advising the program for four years, really enjoys the Marketplace.

“I was out sick leading up to it and I came to the school just to see how much fun they’re having while having success,” she said.

Bergh said she’s also seen a sense of solidarity among the students in the program.

“Kids would go around and endorse other people’s products, helping other people sell,” she said.

Correa has seen the same thing in Florida.

“After children put up individual “Sold Out” signs, I have often seen them support peers by purchasing their products, too,” she said. “This is truly a beautiful thing to see: children helping children. I know they will blossom into adults helping adults.”

Grogaard said the kids walk away from the Marketplace exhausted. Due to the number of students enrolled in the program in Sparta (about 175), it’s held over two nights.

Students who sold products during the first night often go back as buyers the second night and vice versa.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Grogaard said. “Being an educator, one of the greatest rewards is seeing the kids you teach have success and it’s incredible to see. Especially the kids who have been nervous about it, when those kids walk away with a smile, when those kids have sold out their stuff, that’s a great feeling.”

There’s no reason why every school shouldn’t have it. It’s one of those things that is able to teach kids life lessons and encourage characteristics we don’t always get to do in the classroom.”