- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (AP) - Paying back loans and completing market surveys might not be what you’d expect to hear about in a third-grade classroom, especially on a day off from school. But that is exactly what Washington Elementary School third-grade teacher Jodi Tuskowski discussed with a small group of her students on a recent Monday.

Caroline Blakeman, Mallory Wanta and Lily Mateer, all 9 years old, met with Tuskowski before they set out on a shopping trip to buy supplies for their classroom business. Team Valentine Roses, which also includes two other students, will make Valentine’s Day gifts for pets that they will sell Feb. 13 and 14 to other students at the school.

Their classmates also will make products such as hot cocoa cups, a popcorn valentine, a bath basket, candy cane hearts and bubble gum rockets to sell at Cupid’s Corner, the name of their gift shop.

The project is a lesson in persuasive writing, public speaking, mathematics, social studies, business and more, Tuskowski said. It’s also a fundraiser for the Books from the Heart program, which collects books to distribute to each kindergarten through second-grade student in the Stevens Point area on Valentine’s Day. About 1,800 books are distributed each year.

Tuskowski’s third-grade students will buy books specifically for the kindergarten students at Washington Elementary School as well as their pen pals who are in kindergarten at Plover-Whiting Elementary School.

“We do (Books from the Heart) because it helps the kids read more and it helps the kids learn more,” Caroline said. “(This project also) helps us learn, too, because we get to learn how to run our own business.”

The three teammates, who are past recipients of Books from the Heart donations, said they are excited to raise money for the program.

“It’s good to help other kids,” Lily told Stevens Point Journal Media (https://spjour.nl/19NA9Dm).

Tuskowski has incorporated the Cupid’s Corner project into her curriculum for the past 20 years, adjusting the concepts based on the grade level she teaches each year.

“I try to keep (the project) as real-world as possible,” Tuskowski said.

The students request a loan from the school’s parent-teacher organization, decide how to divide the money up among the six teams, buy the items needed to make their Valentine’s gifts, assemble their products, determine cost and markup, and then run their store.

Once the sale is finished, they must repay the PTO loan and buy books. Any leftover money is donated to another charity that the students select. Last year’s class purchased a paving stone with all of their names on it to help raise money for an animal sanctuary in honor of Catherine Violet Hubbard, a first-grader who was killed Dec. 14, 2012, in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Books from the Heart is sponsored by the Stevens Point Area Education Association and is primarily run by local educators, said coordinator Barbara Peterson, who is a Stevens Point-area reading teacher. Kindergarten through second-grade students in nine public and four parochial schools each will receive a new book as part of the program, which is in its 16th year.

“Studies show that kids with books in their home tend to be better readers,” Peterson said. “It’s different to own a book than to check out a book at the library, and some of our students don’t have transportation so they can’t get to the library.

“(Books from the Heart) is fostering a love of reading. We are telling kids that we as a community value them as readers, and that we hope they develop a lifelong love of reading.”

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Information from: Stevens Point Journal Media, https://www.stevenspointjournal.com

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