Nicholson Elementary Students Open Businesses, Explore Careers

First grader Selah serves as a waitress inside the Waffle House located within the school’s make-believe town of Starville where first graders and kindergarten students were able to learn about careers and businesses through role-playing.

“I need an order of waffles!” “We need more water at this table.” “What would you like to order?” “Waffles, please.” That’s some of the chatter one may expect to hear inside a Waffle House restaurant. Add the smell of syrup and butter wafting in the air and waiters wearing aprons with bright yellow nametags bustling around the room, and some of the kindergarten students may have forgotten that they were inside a classroom at Nicholson Elementary School.

First grade students at Nicholson Elementary School operate a Waffle House as they learn about careers and businesses in the school’s make-believe town of Starville. Kindergarten students visited the restaurant as community members of the town.

The Waffle House menus on the tables and the makeshift lights dangling overhead further created the real-life ambiance of the student-operated Waffle House in Nicholson’s fictional town of Starville. Standing in as the community members of Starville, kindergartners visited the classroom versions of the Waffle House, a fire station, Home Depot, and Kroger. Nicholson first graders served as the employees of the businesses.

“We came up with this idea for play-based, project-based learning for our students,” explained Andi Hodgin, Nicholson school counselor.Our students are learning about the career clusters. We thought what a better way to teach them about the career clusters than playing.”

First grader Emory was enjoying her job as a Waffle House server so much that she really didn’t want to step away from her job for too long.

The first graders like Emory filled out job applications for their positions at the Starville businesses. Some of the qualifications they listed included being friendly and making good grades.

“We practiced how to do our jobs so we didn’t mess up,” said Carter, who was selected as the manager of Starville’s Home Depot.

Carter’s job was to make sure his classmates let the kindergarteners have fun. His fellow first graders helped kindergarten students build construction projects in the store. Carter, who was wearing Home Depot’s traditional orange apron, was supposed to step in if the first graders were taking over and not allowing the kindergarteners to do the construction project.

The Home Depot manager enjoyed being able to help, and he thinks the kindergarteners were having fun hammering nails too.

Kindergarten students at Nicholson Elementary School build a construction project in Home Depot as they learn about careers and businesses in the school’s make-believe town of Starville. First graders served as employees of the businesses and helped the kindergarten students.

“They were all screaming so that means they were having fun,” Carter added.

Down the hall from Home Depot, kindergarten students pushed carts through the aisles of Starville’s Kroger. Just like their parents do on their trips to the grocery store, the students checked their shopping list and placed the food items in their baskets. The first graders helped the young shoppers look for the items they needed and then checked them out when the kindergarteners finished. Tucked in the corner of the room, a miniature farm gave students the opportunity to explore how food is grown before it arrives at the grocery store.

“What makes this different is our students are actively involved,” Hodgin said when talking about Nicholson’s method of teaching career content. “They are not just writing down and answering questions on a test. They are actually playing it out and showing what they are learning. I think students learn best by playing.”

Next door to Kroger, students role-played as firefighters and paramedics. They used stethoscopes to listen to each other’s heartbeats. Wearing red fire department hats, the students practiced crawling through tunnels with flashlights. Some stopped to chat with a real visiting firefighter.

Before visiting the businesses inside the Nicholson Elementary School’s make-believe town of Starville, kindergarten students went on a parade through the halls of the school showing off the careers they plan to pursue.

Before the businesses opened, the kindergartners went on a parade through the halls of the school. The students sported outfits representing their future career paths, which included doctor, construction worker, pilot, astronaut, veterinarian, and more.

Encouraging the students to look to their future, the Nicholson kindergarteners also wore pieces of paper that listed where the students see themselves in 20 years. Many expect to own homes and to have already started families. One girl anticipates owning 18 cats within the next two decades. Their parents can rest easy. Their kids still plan to do their chores and pick up after their pets when they grow up. They also plan to still love their teachers like Mrs. Honeycutt and Mrs. Kessler.

However, not all of the students plan to live in Marietta. Their career paths will take them to California, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. to name a few.

“The importance of college and careers starts as early as kindergarten. We have to get them thinking about those things,” emphasized Hodgin.