Oklahoma City Middle Schoolers Learn Soft Skills By Running Mock Business

May 22, 2018

Many students at Oklahoma Centennial Mid-High in northeast Oklahoma City often don’t eat breakfast. And when students are hungry, they don’t pay attention and their grades can suffer.

Eighth-grader Faith Thomas won a national competition from Family, Career and Community Leaders of America’s grant competition to run a mock business that helps solve this problem. The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports Thomas and others in her class hand out bagels between first and second hour classes. Through the process, the students develop the soft skills that are necessary to succeed in the hospitality industry.


Jacob McCleland: It’s the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland, and I’m joined today by Sarah Terry-Cobo. She’s a senior reporter at the  Journal Record newspaper. Hey Sarah, thanks for joining us.

Sarah Terry-Cobo: Hi Jacob, it’s great to be here.

McCleland: I want to talk to you today about a story you wrote last week in the Journal Record. Some eighth graders at Oklahoma Centennial Mid-High in Oklahoma City are running a mock business. During the pilot run of their business, they are handing out breakfast to students. They have some grant money for the project. Why did they choose breakfast for their project?

Terry-Cobo:  So an eighth-grader named Faith Thomas, she was responding initially to her teacher’s request to write a grant, which asks students to solve a problem. So in class, she and her classmates were learning about how few students in her school actually eat breakfast, even though the school has free breakfast available to everybody. Students learn that if you don’t eat breakfast, it affects attention and memory and it can affect behavior. So children don’t do as well or they’re more likely to act out.

McCleland:  What kinds of skills do the student learn through this project?

Terry-Cobo:  They learn problem solving. That’s why they decided to choose the pass period between first and second hour. They learn teamwork; students work in groups of three to take student ID and grade numbers, while the other two get the bagel variety and pass out the bagel with a napkin. They learn cooperation, collaboration and organization; they have to come in Monday afternoon to put the bagels on trays and get them ready for the next morning.

And their teacher, her name is Chef Carrie Snyder-Renfro, she says they are learning about customer service. How to smile and be polite so people will continue to return to their business.

McCleland:  How is the demand in Oklahoma City for the skills that these students are acquiring?

Terry-Cobo: Well, once they are old enough to work, because some aren’t yet, then they could easily get jobs in the hospitality sector if they can apply these skills they’re learning. So Oklahoma City restaurateur Marc Dunham says there are far more jobs in the restaurant industry thann there are people to work. Hospitality is the fastest-growing sector in the nation.

McCleland:  Now the students aren’t actually selling a product or handling cash, so how does this project help with the business aspect of running a business?

Terry-Cobo:  So what Dunham, the chef and owner of restaurant Nashbird tells us, is that even though the labor market is really tight, those soft skills are what he looks for first in a job candidate. So being able to show up on time, being dressed properly in a clean, neat uniform, knowing how to address your superiors, smiling at customers, and being able to diffuse a conflict or a difficult situation and make a customer happy, all of those things are absolutely crucial if you work at a restaurant.

McCleland: So students can get their bagels between classes in the morning. It’s been awhile since I was a middle or high school, but I definitely recall that you don’t have a lot of time to get from class to class. How do the students who are running the business project handle this onslaught of customers? I imagine it’s pretty chaotic.

Terry-Cobo:  Indeed. Before the bell even rings, Faith, the fourteen-year-old, she makes an announcement over the school’s loudspeaker to tell children if they want breakfast, they need to have their ID number and grade on a slip of paper to help speed things along. And then they have about four groups of three students each. They go out with bagel carts to different parts of the school. They set up in the hallway near a classroom. Then you have two students talking to customers and handing out bagels, and then a third student is making sure people are in line [and] have their ID numbers down on a slip of paper she collects.

It kind of looked like the chaos that I remember between classes in high school and middle school. But there are teachers nearby and an assistant principal to help smooth the flow of traffic and remind students not to cut in line.

McCleland:  This is a pilot program. Does the school plan to continue it or expand it in the future?

Terry-Cobo: Yes, and the teacher, that’s Chef Snyder-Renfro, she and the student, Faith, would eventually like to expand it feed more children, so that everyone has an opportunity to get breakfast if they haven’t already there at Centennial Mid-High. And the nutritionist and dieticians for the school district overall, they are observing this as one of several pilot programs. The data that they gather from all these pilots will help them write a grant to expand school breakfast in the entire district, but it kind of has to be catered to each specific school. And the grant is about $300,000.

McCleland: Sarah Terry-Cobo is a senior reporter for the Journal Record newspaper. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us.

Terry-Cobo: Absolutely. It’s great to be here, Jacob.

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