Class turns social consciousness into business plan
For 19 global marketing students at Wellesley High School, getting their homework done means more than just maintaining a good grade-point average. Since September, they have become one of the largest employers for a neighborhood in Haiti.
Their class has gone beyond its usual curriculum to form a nonprofit organization, the Cite Soleil Opportunity Council, to help impoverished artisans in Haiti sell their wares in Wellesley and raise money for medical care in the troubled country.
“It’s unbelievable how much we’re helping,’’ said Mark Mulligan, a 16-year-old junior. “It’s not about the grades.’’
Their products will be among the items for sale at the annual Wellesley Marketplace, taking place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Wellesley Middle School, 50 Kingsbury St.
The class has made $1,000 selling colorful tin sculptures, said Dr. Lawrence R. Kaplan, who purchases the art while on medical relief trips to Haiti and delivers it to Wellesley for the students to sell. The profits go to Haiti Clinic, a nonprofit group in Port-au-Prince’s Cite Soleil neighborhood.
“It motivates me a lot more to know we have an impact,’’ said junior Tim Hill, 17.
“We have to be creative, because selling is always a challenge. We can’t just sell in the school, we have to get out into the town and raise awareness.’’
Kaplan, a physician who traveled to Haiti days after the devastating earthquake in January, visits the class every week to talk about what he has seen in the country and why helping the artists there is important.
The class is supporting 12 artists, but about 140 members of their extended families depend on their income, said Kaplan. All of the artists are men in their 20s and 30s, but soon the students will start selling weavings from Haitian women, he said.
Blake Dowling, a senior, said he had been planning to study business in college next year, and this project has reinforced that goal. Dowling, 17, also said helping the artists is more important to him than scoring straight As, but his focus on making the project a success has boosted his grades.
“It makes the class more interesting . . . learning hands on,’’ he said. “This class does take priority. People are surprised at the nature of what we’re doing; you wouldn’t expect high school kids to be doing something this substantial.’’
Dowling and several of his classmates want to continue working on the Cite Soleil Opportunity Council for their senior projects, expanding the marketing and sales elements, he said.
The students had their first big successful sale in September at the high school, they said, and are also selling the pieces in a seasonal holiday shop at 102 Central St.
Kaplan pays the artists half the price upfront so they can purchase supplies, then he buys the finished product for the class to sell. The system provides a fair price for the artists and still leaves room for donations to the Haiti Clinic, he said.
The students said a little bit of help can go a long way in Haiti.
“One person there is sometimes all it takes,’’ Mulligan said of Kaplan’s role. “It shows how much they need our help.’’
The class has started deciding on what to order and how much to charge for the art, comparing the offerings of other companies that sell Haitian goods.
“It’s important they’re taking on those responsibilities,’’ said Kaplan. “They’re learning about the problems of the country and how they affect international trade.’’
Kaplan said he has offered to take any of the students in the class along on one of his trips to Haiti.
“It would be an incredible experience for these kids,’’ he said. “Wellesley kids have been to much different places than Haiti. The French they speak in Haiti is much different than the French they speak in France.’’
Gerry Murphy, a retired Wellesley history teacher, is helping to advise the class. He said that since September, he has increasingly seen the students interact with each other and take initiative.
“They are becoming more articulate, involved, and confident,’’ said Murphy. “Students who seldom spoke are now speaking. They’re feeling better about themselves, and it shows in their work.’’
Wellesley High business teacher Jane Lord, who leads the class, said when Kaplan and Murphy approached her with the idea, she realized the project was a “perfect match’’ for her students. It is the first time she has integrated a real product into the global marketing course, Lord said, and she would love to start the project from the ground up again next year.
The class combines lectures on business with time to work on the project, Lord said. The students chose which part of the operation to join, from production and finance to human resources and communications, she said.
“That helps us as teachers. The advertising people, for example, are extremely artistic, and that comes out again and again,’’ said Lord. “You hear all their voices. Because they’ve had success, they feel good.’’