Fifth-graders compete in entrepreneurial challenge

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Kaitlyn Lu explains her group’s plan to improve Bullis Charter School’s garden.

When looking for ways to improve the garden at Bullis Charter School’s north campus, Maya Panchal and a group of three fellow fifth-graders focused on the role bees and bugs play in growing plants.

“The problem that we faced is that honeybees will sting and that will affect the kindergartners and people who walk by,” Maya said.

The garden is next to the kindergarten classrooms and the playground. The group wants to install a hive that will attract solitary bees, which rarely sting, and butterflies.

Their plan was part of a project that all fifth-graders at the charter school participate in each year. The students are given the same guiding question: “As entrepreneurs, what can we do to create an effective system for growing produce to feed people in need?”

They then work to identify systems in the school garden that are broken and develop a plan for how to improve things. Various experts came to speak to the students, including a representative from Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, a local food bank where produce from the garden will be donated. Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs also came to talk with students about developing a successful pitch.

After two weeks of work, all 22 groups of fifth graders on the north campus participated in a demo day Nov. 5, where they set up booths in the multipurpose room and pitched their ideas to teachers, parents and experts. The students were then sent feedback on their projects and had a day and a half to revise their plans and make a video of their pitch.

“We wanted them to have an opportunity to get the feedback from a large audience and then have a chance to reflect on it and change things,” fifth grade teacher Liz Staresnick said.

The top six teams made it to a “Shark Tank,” based on the television show, where they presented to school administrators. The administrators will ultimately pick one or two teams, whose ideas will be implemented in the garden.

Although this is the third year the fifth grade class has completed this project on improving the garden, in past years everyone made it to the Shark Tank. This is the first year the demo day and videos were added. According to Staresnick, the school grew and a third fifth grade class was added on the north campus this year, making it more onerous to have every student present to administrators.

“We decided to narrow it down and make it more authentic,” she said, noting that having multiple rounds makes it more similar to pitching ideas in the real world.

Maya and her other group members, Kaitlyn Lu, Vanita Venkatesh and Juliana Enos, were one of the teams to make it to the Shark Tank, which was held Nov. 12, after the Town Crier’s print deadline. Completing the project helped teach them how to work as a team and split up tasks effectively.

“My favorite part was collaborating with my group,” Kaitlyn said. “While we faced challenges, I liked that we always solved problems and never gave up.”

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