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Mercer Island High students trade goods with Africa

Carol Wiseley’s marketing class meets four days a week to discuss their upcoming projects and what needs to be finished as excitement over a scheduled video conference builds.

Sounds like a pretty typical high school student’s day, except that the 11 students in Wiseley’s class have created their own company, Mercer Trade Incorporated, sold stocks and will be importing products from an all-boys’ school in Ghana, Africa.

“We’re a pilot program,” said Wiseley, adding that her class is possibly the first school in Washington to take part in the program. “We thought, let’s try it, it sounds great.”

Run through Achievers International Programme, an online enterprising project for high school-aged students that spans the globe. Achievers, based in London, strives to help students understand international business through student-created companies. The school companies are paired with another school somewhere else in the globe with whom the students trade products to sell. At the end of the school year, profits are distributed to shareholders and another portion is donated to a cause chosen by the students.

Wiseley’s class received approval from Achievers to start their program in October, as well as a grant from the Mercer Island Schools Foundation for $1,000 to help with set-up costs. The students sold stock in their company, contributing $500. A majority of that stock is held within the company.

The students in the class voted on board positions, created bylaws and wrote a mission statement as part of the beginning process. They chose to trade with Augusco SAGE in Ghana, a similar student-created company at Saint Augustine’s College in the town of Cape Coast. Ghana is approximately the size of the state of Oregon with a population of 23 million, located between Cote d’Ivoire and Togo.

“We thought it was a cool idea,” said MIHS senior Julia Ball, the CEO of Mercer Trade Inc. “We decided they were the most interesting of all of them. We wanted to do something different.” Ball added that the class felt working with Ghana would be interesting because it was an area they knew little about, as compared to several of the European countries which were available.

That interest in learning about a place vastly different from the United States has also created some frustrations, especially considering the time difference, making video conferencing and calling tricky.

“It’s frustrating at times to not hear back,” said Ball.

At the end of January, the class held their first video conference via Skype with their partners in Ghana. They were assisted by Patrick Baah, a recently hired school custodian who is from Ghana. Wiseley said that Baah has been extremely important to the success of the program because he speaks the language and understands the culture, making the process much easier for students to navigate.

“He was really helpful,” said Chloe Sandvik, one of the human resource directors for the company. “He knew what they were saying and how to pronounce their names.”

During the video conference, the students discussed product ideas, the types of products they would like to receive and what the students in Ghana would like the Mercer Trade Inc. to send. Ball said that nothing has been confirmed yet, but some of the ideas for imported products include: coffee beans, beads and Kente cloth, a type of fabric native to the country that is made from interwoven cloth strips. The school in Ghana has said they would like T-shirts, shoes and computer software, if possible.

“We were all really excited about the first video conference,” said Alana Brooks, with the production and distribution portion of the company.

“It was a good experience and a relief to get through the first one, knowing they are just like us,” said Ball.

The production and distribution portion of the company, which includes Phoebe Merritt, Alana Brooks and Amy Hardisty, sent a test shipment, a 9-pound box of Mercer Trade Inc. T-shirts to Ghana to help with cost and time estimates at the end of January. It cost the company $70 to ship the box via the United States Postal Service, a service which included receipt confirmation and insurance. The students said they priced the same shipping through FedEx and discovered it could cost around $300 to do the same thing.

Over the next two months, the students hope to import and export their goods, selling the items they receive around the area. While no plans are set on where those items will be sold, the marketing plan developed by the students suggested selling the items at school events, the student store and around the Island.

All the students in the class are seniors, and Wiseley said at the end of the year the company will liquidate, but the basic structure will continue on for students next year to continue to participate in the program.

Overall, the project helps students learn about business practices, international business and trading laws. It also strives to give students an increased awareness of cultures, help them develop skills and promotes the use of modern technology, such as video conferencing.

Most of the students in Wiseley’s class said they plan to pursue business, international business or some form of marketing in college. Wiseley said all of the students in the class also qualified for the State DECA competition, part of a group of 45 MIHS students who qualified to compete in March.

The students in Wiseley’s class include: Julia Ball, CEO, Tiffany Huoth and Eric Bauer, chief financial officers, Lisa Remy, Nicole Reisman, Emma Schulte, marking and sales, Phoebe Merritt, Alana Brooks, Amy Hardisty, production and distribution, Vinnie Tran and Chloe Sandvik, human resources.

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