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Fair teaches students about free enterprise

A first-grade class at North Shore Elementary School has come up with a better mouse trap . . . make that tooth trap. Inspired by a real concern among children their age _ that teeth can be lost under pillows and missed by the tooth fairy _ the class created 175 small pillows with one-inch pockets, dubbed them "tooth fairy pillows," and marketed them to fellow schoolmates for $2 each.

They sold all but 30, which they're taking to this year's Economics Fair today.

Elementary, middle and high school students and their teachers will be feverishly competing in the free marketplace of the Economics Fair for sales and recognition. The fair, now in its 10th year, will be at Osceola Middle School, 9301 98th St. N in Seminole.

Economic decision-making and concept understanding are an important part of basic education, said Jeanne Freeze, director of social studies for Pinellas County schools and chairwoman of the Pinellas County Schools Economics Council. "Business education is an interdisciplinary approach that involves skills such as marketing, home economics and social studies," she said. "The students must learn how to use what they have."

Two special education teachers at Maximo Elementary in St. Petersburg noted that many of their students possess artistic talents. Capitalizing on these resources, the classes have produced "Designs by Max and Mo" _ assorted holiday and note cards to sell at the fair for $1 a pack.

And Largo Central Elementary second- and third-graders are hoping to have an edge on the food competition at the fair by putting a new twist on an old favorite. "The Cookie Express" will offer 25-cent cookies chock full of chocolate chips and heaping with crumbled Heath Bars.

Mrs. Freeze said that in the past the fair has been a national award winner. "It has contributed to Pinellas County's reputation as a leader in economic education," she said. "And Pinellas County in certain years has won more awards than any other."

Participation in the event is voluntary and is open to all classes from the gifted to the profoundly mentally handicapped.

This year, more than 120 projects will be submitted involving the work of some 400 teachers and thousands of students. Judging the event will be teams of business people and educators who will announce nearly 100 winners in four categories: demonstrations, including the live action involved at the fair; graphics and booth displays; creative teaching techniques; and documentation of the project.

Sun Bank of Tampa Bay is sponsoring the prizes, plaques and teacher reception where winners will be announced Feb. 27.

Many of the projects are actual businesses that classes have been working on since the beginning of the school year. Start-up capital usually is raised by selling stock to parent or teacher groups or borrowing money from sources such as the principal's fund.

If and when profits are realized, loans and dividends are paid to lenders and stockholders and, in some cases, profits are donated to charitable organizations.

"Teachers lead the children to consider alternatives (for use of profits) and many times help to develop a social consciousness," Mrs. Freeze said. Profits from past projects have been used to purchase things such as a radio transmitter to help track a manatee and a rocking chair for All Children's Hospital.

This year, several projects will have themes concerning endangered species, the environment, conservation and recycling.

Fair hours are 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. There is no admission cost and parking is available at Osceola Middle and High schools. A remote parking lot at Starkey Elementary School on 86th Avenue N will be serviced by a shuttle bus running to the fair site every 15 minutes from 9:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.