At first glance, you might think the corner store inside West Middle School’s cafeteria, elaborately designed with a movie theatre motif, sells nothing more than soda, popcorn, and Jujyfruits. But a closer look behind the counter reveals that students are in fact making practical purchases—as well as learning important business and money management skills—during their school day.

Parent leaders at the Auburn, N.Y., school first conceived the idea for the store in spring 2006 at a Parent Teacher Partnership meeting. “We were looking at our goals for the next school year and the idea came up,” explains Karol Soules, cochair of the PTP. “The teachers were frustrated with kids constantly asking for pencils and pens and complaints when it came time for projects that kids didn’t have poster board....The store was a perfect solution.”

Over the summer, parent leaders earmarked $500 from their budget and received $1,000 from an Arby’s restaurant to construct and stock the store. A parent built the structure in his garage and reassembled it in the cafeteria. The PTP then came up with the movie theme. “We wanted something that would relate to all students at middle school age, and we felt that all preteens love to go to the movies,” Soules says. After students voted on a name (it’s known as the West Side Store), the structure was turned over to art teacher Cari Adams. She and her studio art students designed and painted movie-themed images on the walls, including popcorn buckets, projectors, and film reels.

The store operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays during lunch; students who want to work behind the counter go through an application process and run the store together with parents. “Parents have been involved since the conception,” says Soules. A crew of six moms and dads supervises on a rotating basis; each parent works at least one day a month. “Basically, the students run the daily operations with a parent there in case they have trouble making change, have something returned or broken, or need a question answered,” she explains.

Soules manages the store’s scheduling, training, and merchandising and also provides monthly updates at PTP meetings. Now self-supporting, the store takes in about $300 a month. She says having the students work at the store allows them to learn basic business concepts while having fun in a socially appropriate environment.

“They want to be involved,” Soules says. “They get a kick out of it, they feel very important and authoritative. I have plenty of applications to last awhile.”

The Group
West Middle School Parent Teacher Partnership, Auburn, N.Y.

School size: 530 students, grades 6-8
Annual earnings: $20,000
Fundraisers: Annual sales of pies, cookie dough, pizza; school apparel sale in November
Mission statement: To bring home and school closer so that parents and teachers may work cooperatively for the welfare and education of our children.

West Side Store
A movie-themed school store operated by students with parent assistance.

Setting up shop: A dad and his two kids built the store at home; several other PTP members’ children primed it with white paint. Large pieces were transported to the school and reassembled in the cafeteria, where the art teacher and her students decorated it.

Hire education: Students submit a job application to work at the store. The application includes math questions as well as questions about how to handle a crabby customer or what to do if someone is caught stealing. If “hired,” the kids work during study periods for a five-week session.

Big sellers: The store is stocked with basics like mechanical pencils, erasable pens, and binders, as well as locker magnets and erasable boards. Most items cost less than a dollar.

Money talk: “We try to always talk to the student workers about money, how we price an item, how much we make on each item, what to do if an item doesn’t sell,” Soules says. Last year, boxes of supplies were donated to needy students at a neighboring school.