For the past year, Barry Desrosiers has met once a week with a class of Grade 6 students, teaching them how the world of commerce works.
The 44-year-old financial planner with Bank of Montreal (BMO) in Calgary is no stranger to volunteering his time. Desrosiers grew up on a farm in Cold Lake, Alta., where his parents were active in making things happen in their community. His father helped build the community hall and ice rink. His mother started a kids’ ball team, Desrosiers says, for “boys and girls from [age] five to 16, whoever wanted to come out. After events, we were expected to help clean up without being asked. It taught me to give more than I take.”
Desrosiers spent the early part of his financial services career in Cold Lake, where he worked on the local United Way charity event, started a junior hockey franchise and led the fundraising for both a recreational facility and Portage College.
In the autumn of 2012, Desrosiers had almost three years under his belt as a retirement planner with BMO in Calgary, when his boss suggested he get involved with The Learning Partnership’s (TLP)entrepreneurial adventure program.
BMO has been a supporter of that national charitable organization, which is dedicated to advancing publicly funded education, since TLP was founded in 1993. The entrepreneurial adventure program helps young entrepreneurs raise money for charities with partners from business, government and community organizations.
“I wasn’t too sure about the ‘kid thing’,” Desrosiers says. “I don’t have kids of my own and I didn’t know what to expect.”
But one of his passions is financial education, and he finds that financially literate clients are the best to work with. “I know that the earlier you move people to a higher level of knowledge,” he says, “the better.”
Desrosiers was assigned to the Grade 6 class taught by Karen Hanson at Our Lady of the Evergreens, an elementary school in southwest Calgary. Desrosiers first met with the 32 boys and girls in the class in January 2013, and began helping them form a company to create a product that could be sold to raise money for charity.
The students chose The Evergreen Team as their company’s name, then Desrosiers interviewed the students for the executive roles: CEO, treasurer, marketing director and art director. Says Desrosiers: “I picked kids who would be able to choose one good idea out of nine and run with it.”
Between two of the weekly sessions with Desrosiers, the class decided that their new company would sell hats.
“When they told me this, I said, ‘Hands up those who wore hats today’,” Desrosiers says. “Half the class raised hands. But when I said, ‘Hands up those who wore shirts today,’ everyone raised hands. So, the class decided to sell T-shirts.”
Desrosiers brought in basic economic principles whenever he could throughout the five-month project. “We touched on supply and demand,” he says, “by discussing our potential market reach: how many students and teachers might buy T-shirts.”
The students obtained quotes from T-shirt manufacturers, settled on one that charged $3 per shirt, which the students thought could be sold for $3.50. “I asked if anyone had ever bought a T-shirt for $3.50,” Desrosiers says. “One boy said they cost at least $12, so they decided to sell them for $12 apiece.”
The class came up with several designs for T-shirt logos, then selected one. The students marketed the shirts within their school through ads on the intercom, posters and word of mouth. They pre-sold slightly more than 200 shirts to fellow students and teachers.
“One of the things they learned was that they had to account for every single dollar,” Desrosiers says. “They had to keep track of revenue and expenses. They had to make sure they knew where all the money went. It’s like teaching a new language, but one that I speak every day.”
The students were able to apply concepts they had learned in class to a real-life situation, says Hanson. “They got experience counting money, as T-shirt sales were cash only. They honed their writing skills by composing emails to get quotes on shirt prices, and composing ad slogans for posters and the ads they read over the intercom. They used consensus decision-making. And because this is a ‘green’ school, they decided to go with a local shirt manufacturer to reduce the environmental footprint of delivery.”
In the end, the class raised $1,576, which was donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a land-conservation organization.
Desrosiers’ previous worries about working with kids proved to be unfounded. He is back at Our Lady of the Evergreens, working with Hanson’s current Grade 6 class. And now, he knows that his message may well be easier to absorb than it is for his adult clients: “These little minds are just waiting to be moulded.”
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