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Class projects add up to success

When Barbara Wells and her fourth-grade class at Westside Elementary School created the "Wee Box Company," the teacher had no idea how large an impact it would have on educators and business representatives from across the state.

The class project won second place in the fourth-grade through sixth-grade category at the 13th annual Florida Awards for Excellence in the Teaching of Economics. The project will be presented to teachers throughout Florida as an example of how to teach economics and free enterprise to young children.

"I am so thrilled. You just can't believe it," Wells said. "I never expected to win, and I'm just so happy."

Wells' class project was not the only Westside winner.

Patsy Byrd, a teacher of transitional third grade at Westside Elementary, won first place for her class project, "The Water and Wonder Jar Company."

Byrd's project won in the open competition category, which included projects from kindergarten through 12th grade. One project from each of the 13 participating school districts was entered in the open competition.

Transitional third grade is for children who have completed second grade but are not quite ready to advance to third grade.

"I am so happy," Byrd said. "My students and I put a lot of work into this project. It was a wonderful project, and I tried very hard to integrate all areas of teaching into it."

The competition is sponsored each year by the Florida Council on Economic Education, a non-profit organization designed to promote economics education in kindergarten through 12th grade. More than 70 entries were submitted from 13 school districts in the Tampa Bay area. State entries included the first- and second-place winners from the area competitions held earlier this spring.

Both Westside Elementary projects, which will be entered in the council's national competition this fall, introduced business principles as pupils created marketable items.

Wells' class made small tennis-shoe note pads, which sold for $1. The class raised about $150 and bought an electronic LEGO building-block set.

Byrd's pupils planted unidentified flower seeds in baby food jars, decorated them with colorful material and sold them for $1. The buyer didn't know what would grow until the plant germinated. More than $400 was raised, which was used to buy computer games for the school. About 10 games were added to the collection, which Byrd said was "dreadfully out of date."

The projects were judged on what their overall appearance was and on how well the teachers incorporated business practices into the classroom lessons, Byrd said.

"We are stimulated to foster a wide range of teaching practices through these projects," she said. "We are challenged to be as creative as we want to be."

Wells said the project brought educational rewards to her pupils as well.

"When I asked the children what they had remembered about the past year, they talked about this project right away," she said. "The kids learned something about business."

Wells and Byrd received cash awards from the county and the state for their winning projects. The state awards were presented during a luncheon at the Omni Hotel in Tampa.