Today’s students must be prepared for everything a modern world will throw at them.
With an ever-changing economy, students must be capable of adapting to keep up with the competition around them. At Dodd Middle School, Consumer Economics Teacher Toni Carson has made it her mission to ready her students for the times ahead, setting them up for entrepreneurial success.
“Kids these days just have access to way more money than they are used to,” Carson explained. “And it’s my job to teach them how to utilize that money for themselves, for their futures. When kids can have a solid grasp of their financials, later on down the road they can really enjoy the security that money brings.”
Carson teaches her students how to create and follow a budget, how to invest in their own personal future, and how to turn an idea into a tangible product.
“Most middle schools in the country don’t offer something like this,” Carson added. “Principal Mike Woods has done an amazing job at letting me run with my ideas and really get these students ready for the world around them.
What makes Carson’s class so unique is that she has received an assist from Cheshire’s local businesses, many of which have stepped up to help teach her students about how to become entrepreneurs at any age. Carson teaches a specific unit of her Consumer Economics curriculum, called “Community Connections,” where she has her students invite local entrepreneurs and business leaders to come and speak to the class about their life experiences.
“I really wanted to give kids a memorable foundation for entrepreneurship, and what is better than using the fantastic businesses in our community that most of these students already know?” Carson explained.
When Carson first began incorporating local businesses into the class, she started with the popular Cheshire car dealership Richard Chevrolet. The presentation turned out to be a memorable one.
“The Richard Chevy car creation project really started it all,” she began. “The kids got to see what it takes to actually make a car, and they got to design their own and actually see the car come to fruition. Since then, we have made really valuable relationships with many local businesses, but it’s important that the kids make the initial connection so they learn how to do it.”
Carson’s students must contact a local business or business leader and request that they speak to their class, something which not every middle school student is prepared to do.
“I’ll be honest, it was a little bit nerve-wracking in the beginning trying to get a hold of someone and having to keep calling and calling,” explained Ben Palladino, one of Carson’s students. Palladino was tasked with getting a hold of the popular pizza restaurant-owner Luigi Fusco, who owns Rossini’s Pizza.
“Once I got him, it was awesome. He answered all my questions and I really enjoyed learning about his back story and how he got into the pizza business. It definitely inspired me to do something like that one day,” Palladino said.
For some students, the project allowed them to get a second look at their family business.
“I actually asked my dad (Craig Goldstein) to come in, since he owns Cheshire Fitness Zone,” explained Sarah Goldstein. “I definitely want to follow in his footsteps and one day take over the business, so it was really cool to learn about why he got started, and he taught us some really important tips about how location can really impact your business.”
“I learned a lot about my grandfather's business and how important it is to the town,” said Molly Bowman, who’s grandfather owns F. F. Hitchcock Company, which provides plumbing, heating and cooling services. “He spoke a lot about how to keep clients coming back and why it’s so important to make a good first impression on a client, which is definitely something that I can see being useful in my everyday life.”
For Carson’s students, despite the focus on fun and interesting speakers, the Consumer Economics class is also a lot of hard work.
“Trying to write a formal business letter was really challenging,” mentioned student Mia Niglio. “Making sure you say the right thing and it comes off as professional was not easy, but we had a lot of help from each other.”
Carson hopes that, through her class, she can prepare her students for life at Cheshire High School and beyond, with an impressive understanding of their own finances and the skills that it takes to create their own businesses.
“I want to give my students an interest in entrepreneurship and in investing in themselves and their futures,” Carson concluded. “That's the best way I know how to prepare them for the world they will enter one day.”
(Note: In the April 22, 2021 edition of The Herald, the headline for this story incorrectly identified Carson’s class as being at Cheshire High School.)