Entrepreneurs from Oak Grove Elementary get a crash course on business at holiday fair

Those who were in desperate need of last-minute gifts found some relief Wednesday at Oak Grove Elementary School, where fifth-graders staged their annual Holiday Magic Fair.

Inside a multipurpose room at the Aliso Viejo campus, more than two dozen young entrepreneurs sold homemade decorations, cookies, magnets, bookmarks and other holiday-themed goods to a crowd of students, parents and staff.

Clear ornaments filled with tiny green pom-poms were laid out at one table. A short walk away, plastic baggies of brown cocoa were made to look like reindeer with googly eyes, pipe-cleaner antlers and red noses.

“This would be an excellent time to do some Christmas shopping,” said Principal Jill O’Connell-Bogle. “I’m amazed at how creative some of their merchandize is.”

Throughout the year, Oak Grove’s fifth-graders get the opportunity to develop, market and run their own small businesses, culminating in about a half-dozen boutique-style fairs. Written business applications must be approved in advance by teachers, and students — working with partners or on their own — are tasked with creating viable business plans and setting prices.

We should probably note here that no real money changes hands. Oak Grove’s fifth grade has instead established its own currency, circulating bills that resemble Monopoly money. Students get “salaries” based on their attendance and can earn bonuses for good behavior.

Of course, they can also lose money, says McCall Lee, a fifth-grade teacher.

“They’re given a salary of $10 a day if they’re here and on time,” Lee told the OCDE Newsroom. “If they’re tardy, they lose some money. If they don’t do their homework, they have to pay. Every week, if they do everything they should, they get an additional $50 bonus.”

There are other fairs, along with an auction that’s held at the end of the year. But the Holiday Magic Fair is considered one of the school’s signature events, with local parents encouraged to take part as shoppers — assuming they can get a few Oak Grove dollars from their kids.

On Wednesday, Oliver, 10, stood behind a table topped with meticulously packaged snowflakes for sale. A closer look revealed they were made of large and small marshmallows connected with toothpicks.

“I made these because they looked nice and you can put them on the edge of a hot cocoa cup,” he said proudly.

With the help of his parents, Oliver produced 75 snowflakes and priced them at $20 a piece. Toward the end of the fair, he was thinking of marking them down to drive up demand.

“Soon I’m going to maybe put them at $20 for two,” he said. “Business is kind of slow at the moment.”