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These Lake Shore kids are finding being kind pays off

"You're as young as cotton candy."

"You are a genius."

"You make me smile."

How much would you pay for a compliment like that to make your day?

Fourth-graders at J.T. Waugh Elementary School in Angola already know: For $2, they can send you a necklace, magnet or keychain with an uplifting message. It's a business that started last January, and it brought in nearly $900. The class donated $500 of that to charity.

Now those students are fifth-graders, and they are mentoring the new class of fourth-graders, who are taking over the business: Kind Kids Compliments. The product line so far includes the three items, all made out of bottle caps, all designed and manufactured by students. Their website is shopkindkids.com. But if they don't have to ship them, they are $1.

"If they work their hardest, they’ll have a lot of fun. We worked our hardest and we got to do a lot of fun things," fifth-grader Kurran O'Connor said of the current fourth-graders.

Fourth-grade teacher Nicole Wegrzynowski and Michael Drezek, technology integrator for Lake Shore Central School District, teamed up to bring the program to their students. They won a $250 startup grant last year from Real World Scholar, a nonprofit organization that provides funding to help connect classrooms to the community through its EdCorps program. EdCorps provides the framework for the business, helping with banking, taxes and startup funding.

"We wanted them to gain some entrepreneurial skills, and we knew that would tie into all the coursework," Drezek said. "It would tie into the math, it would tie into the communication, it would tie into the writing, it would tie into technology with developing a website."

The idea for the business grew out of "Free Compliments" sheets students fill out in Wegrzynowski's class. Students and teachers can rip off one of the eight compliments on each paper and give it to someone or keep it as a pick-me-up.

Students had lots of ideas for products, such as T-shirts, pants, hoodies, mugs, picture frames, cards and stickers. That's where Wegrzynowksi stepped in to ask a few questions to help them think through the realities of how to spend the $250. What sizes would they have to have on hand for clothing, and how much would that cost?

Students quickly figured out they did not have enough money for clothes. They decided to make products out of craft bottle tops, which they order in bulk from Amazon.

They designed the website, with the framework from EdCorps, as well as business cards, both with a little oversight from Drezek.

Students use the mornings before classes start and a weekly flex period as production time. At one table, children write the compliments on small round white pieces of paper. Another student checks the spelling, while others glue the paper onto the bottle caps. Then a chain necklace, keychain or magnet is attached to the bottle cap, and they are ready to sell.

"It was all just made by us," said fifth-grader Nicholas Guzzetta, who said his favorite part was manufacturing.

Not everything goes well, and that's a learning experience too, as students figure out how to overcome setbacks.

This year the business won a $500 grant from EdCorps, and Wegrzynowski expects the new operators to expand the product line. The new class has decided to donate its profits to the district's Family Support Center.

"My students have gained leadership, learned responsibility, and empathy for each other and our community," Wegrzynowski said. "They have learned that one little act of kindness can go a long way."

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