School’s winning retail strategy

Rita O’Brien and Associate Professor David Giles, Dean of the School of Education at Flinders University

The innovation and success of Mypolonga Primary School’s retail business, which is founded on traditional mathematics skills, has been recognised as the winner of the Advantage SA Regional Award for Education.

Established in 1996, the Mypolonga Primary School’s shop has evolved, under the guidance of Principal Rita O’Brien, from a focus on selling local craft items to becoming a retail business that is integrated into the school curriculum.

In doing so the shop, which opens for 45 minutes each Friday – to coincide with a tour by passengers of the local paddle steamer, the Proud Mary – has encouraged numeracy skills like the calculation of sales, change and commissions without calculators or computers.

Ms O’Brien said she wanted the school shop to operate as a business “because business skills can transfer into all aspects of life”.

“There is real life mathematics in the shop – we take a 20 per cent commission on all consignments by local producers and we turn over $18,000 a year. So the students are working with real money and they start to see patterns, and patterns in numbers lead into all sorts of mathematical learning areas,” Ms O’Brien said.

The hands-on maths training has translated into classroom success with Mypolonga Primary School recording the highest numeracy skills in South Australia in 2000. By 2010, the numeracy skills of Mypolonga’s Year 7 students were higher than the national average for Year 9 students.

“The students absolutely love the shop program. I was recently working on the counter with a young Aboriginal boy and we sold $610 of stock in 45 minutes and he mentally calculated all of the sales, change and commissions. The customers were giving him such positive feedback and validation and he was so proud of what he was able to do,” Ms O’Brien said.

Along with the work of local arts, crafts and produce suppliers, the shop stocks products made by the student body – from luggage tags and book-marks by the youngest to lemonade, chocolate-coated apricots and recipe books by the older students. Each stage of the production and sales process is assessed and quality assured, with students becoming the assessors as they become more experienced. When the required skills have been demonstrated the students receive certificates in financial management, retail, and business leadership.

Mypolonga’s students have won numerous awards and widespread recognition, including entry opportunities to prestigious high schools.

“One of the reasons our students are sought after is because we believe a work ethic, vocational or academic, is really critical to students achieving success. And the community values that work ethic,” Ms O’Brien said.

The Advantage SA Regional Award for Education was sponsored by Flinders University.

Addressing the awards ceremony in Adelaide, Professor John Halsey, the Sidney Myer Chair in Rural Education and Communities, said regional Australia should feature more prominently in the minds of policy makers.

“For regions to be the leaders and drivers of the foundations for life as we currently know them and might imagine them into the future – say 2050 when the world’s population will be nine to 10 billion, a 40 per cent increase – the balance between regions and cities needs to assume greater prominence, especially for key decision makers,” Professor Halsey said.

“And a very good place to start is access and costs, not only for industries, but especially access and costs relating to high quality human services like education, health and other localised services that make a community, a town, a people, able to be the regions of our state in abundant ways. South Australia’s regions resource, renew and refresh us,” he said.

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