You would think that putting a bunch of children in charge of an ice-cream shop for a few hours would lead to chaos, sugar meltdowns, and regrets, but in Freehold, N.J., it turned into a great learning experience as well as a decent fundraiser.

The Freehold Intermediate School PTO, along with the parent groups from the Freehold Learning Center and Park Avenue Elementary, created an Entrepreneur for a Day event. With help from parent volunteers, students ran a local Italian ices shop, handling all aspects of the business, from advertising to cleaning up. The three PTOs shared the $1,000 made during the event, but the real focus was the business lessons students learned throughout their day.

“We thought this was a great way for us to interact with parents, students, and teachers,” says Jill Schiff, president of the Freehold Intermediate PTO. “It was an opportunity to all work together.”

Schiff says the PTO wasn’t even shopping around for a new fundraiser, but then they heard from David Levine. The owner of a local franchise of Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices, Levine found himself with some extra product he needed to scrap before the start of the summer season. Rather than trash perfectly good ice cream and Italian ices, Levine decided to check in with some local area schools to see whether they’d be interested in a partnership.

After a discussion with Levine, Schiff thought the opportunity would be a great way to teach students about business. The one downside: The group had only a week to pull it off because of Levine’s time frame. So Schiff quickly enlisted the help of her board and the PTOs at the Freehold Learning Center and Park Avenue Elementary. Altogether, about 18 students from the three schools participated.

With the team set up, the students initiated the event advertising, including making signs and flyers, reaching out to a local community volunteer who promoted the event to her email list, and promoting the event on the morning announcements at school. The PTO volunteers helped with additional emails and rounding up parents to work at the event. “I just made a spreadsheet and plugged people in,” Schiff says.

Meanwhile, the students “had a tremendous amount of responsibility,” she says, and were charged with making decisions about who would handle what duties. For example, they decided the younger students would handle toppings because those treats were stored on lower shelves. Older students dished out ice cream and ices. A few students were assigned promotion during the event, and so one student stood outside holding a sign and another served as a greeter as families came in the shop’s door.

Some older students had previous experience on a volunteer project at Ralph’s; this time, they manned the cash registers and trained people for different shifts. The kids also determined how much to charge for different serving sizes.

When the event wrapped up, the team cleaned up the entire store. “These kids came in and they were incredible,” shop owner Levine says. “With young men and women, you might get a jerk or two. But they were so well-behaved and hardworking.”

Freehold Intermediate School PTO

Freehold, N.J.
390 students, grades 6-8
$6,000 annual budget

Entrepreneur for a Day
An event for students to get hands-on business experience by running a local shop or store and handling all aspects of the operations for a day.

Tap into the entrepreneurial spirit: Seek out student volunteers of different ages so they can learn from each other and encourage creative thinking in such areas as advertising and promotions.

Give the kids decisionmaking power: Resist the urge to run things. Let the students make as many decisions as possible so they get the most from the experience.

Have the business owner join in: The business owner can take on a mentoring role with the students. At Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices, franchise owner David Levine says he enjoyed interacting with the kids and sharing business tips. “I explained about rent, utilities, product, and they were listening and they learned,” he says. “It was so cool.”