La CROSSE — Third-grade students in La Crosse got more than they bargained for when they began their new unit in social studies.

After Christmas, the class began a unit on economics, but the learning would involve more than just reading about the practices second-hand; they were about to get valuable, real-world experience.

The unit began much like many others, with the introduction of new vocabulary such as producer, consumer, human resources, natural resources, capital resources, overhead, import, export, wages, profit, supply, demand, scarcity, bartering, etc. They then discussed how a business works and how businesses get started.

“The goal was to teach them the whole topic first, and then the project was added so they could really see how it worked first-hand,” teacher Rachel Holopirek said.

The class project would involve a fundraiser where the profits would be donated to a worthy cause. The first step was deciding what kind of fundraiser it would be and who would receive the profits.

Since one of their first units in social studies was government, a democratic vote was in order.

“We talked about wanting to do something that was local and would help out the school in some way,” Holopirek said. “They always ask Mrs. Irvin (the librarian) to buy different kinds of books, so the idea was this way she would have funds to buy some of the books they were requesting.”

Now they were just needing a product. After deciding they wanted to manufacture their product using an assembly line in their classroom, they began looking into a product that would ensure each member of the class would have a job in the assembly line.

They even visited La Crosse Furniture Co. to see how a real assembly line operates.

“That is why we went the trail-mix route,” Holopirek said. “We needed many different products to set up a longer assembly line.”

Jason Dellett, loan officer at Farmers Bank and Trust, La Crosse, came to visit with the class at the beginning of February about how some businesses pay for their overhead expenses — business loans.

He told the class about the different questions the bank would ask when one applies for a loan, and that they would need to provide a business plan complete with an estimate of what overhead costs would be.

This research was completed by looking up the prices for all the items they wanted to include in their trail mix on the internet.

“We came up with around $140, so we came within $10 or so of our actual expenses,” Holopirek said.

The class then signed a promissory note with the bank for a loan amount of $200 at a 5-percent interest rate. They agreed to pay the principal loan and the interest due by Feb. 15.

The class put their school laptops up for collateral.

“I about fainted when Mrs. Holopirek told me that,” said Bill Keeley, LES principal and USD 395 superintendent.

After they had their loan, the class members had to get to work.

A commercial was produced, and they worked on their marketing strategies.

Holopirek, upon consulting with Victoria teacher Summer Moeckel who also does a similar project with her third-graders, decided to sell the trail mix in conjunction with a basketball game and parent/teacher conferences the week of Valentine’s Day. Each bag of trail mix contained gold fish, M&M’s, pretzels, marshmallows, candy hearts, Cheerios, Captain Crunch, animal crackers and either raisins or peanuts. The students also created paper hearts with valentine greetings with their product and business name: Happy Hearts Trail Mix by the Third Grade Mega Mixers.

The bags were sold for $3 each.

In the end, the class borrowed $200 to get started, had $128.26 in expenses and donated the profit of $247.64 to the LES Library.

The class was able to march into Dellett’s office and pay off the loan on time as promised.

All students questioned said they really enjoyed the project.

Marlee Mitchell and Trenton Skillet said their favorite part was selling the product, while John Doornbos said the most difficult part was his job in the assembly line.

“I had to hole punch 170 bags,” Doornbos said with wide eyes.

Holopirek said she was happy with how the project turned out.

“The biggest thing that I want people to know is the only thing I did was the grocery shopping,” Holopirek said. “The kids made the commercials, they made all the hearts, made the trail mix, sat at the booth and sold the product. They even had to learn how to count back change, which was very well-received from the community.”

Keeley said he was thoroughly impressed with the project.

“Our new accreditation system and standards preach project-based learning,” Keeley said. “This was a real-life, practical project where students learned about real-life challenges.”

He also appreciated how the project was class-directed and the students took ownership of their product.