Local merchants get involved in classroom lesson

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 5, 2014

 Student auctioneer Diego Garcia takes bids on a University of Michigan bag during a lesson at Defer Elementary.

Student auctioneer Diego Garcia takes bids on a University of Michigan bag during a lesson at Defer Elementary.

Photo by April Lehmbeck

GROSSE POINTES — When Defer Elementary students in Heather Halpin’s fourth- and fifth-grade split class wrote persuasive letters seeking donations for their classroom auction, local business owners felt persuaded to help.

Not only did they respond with donations, but the local merchants expressed their enthusiasm over the project and the letters they received.

“The community is responding to my students’ requests, commenting on the lessons they’re learning through this experience and how much they’ve enjoyed reading their handwritten letters,” Halpin said in an email. “We’ve received a hermit crab starter kit from Donnie Cook at Lou’s Pet Shop, to gift cards from TCBY, Mastro’s, State Farm Insurance and numerous others. Even Steve Morrish, from Merrill Lynch, sent a monetary donation and a book called ‘A Fly on Wall Street’ for the kids to read.

“The excitement from this activity is contagious,” she said.

Halpin wanted the community recognized for its generosity.

Through this activity, the students not only learned the components of persuasive writing — a part of the curriculum — they also learned about supply and demand through another component of the lesson.

Student auctioneers auctioned off the donations the class received to students who bid on the items.

“I typically have two class auctions a year where students spend fictitious currency called ‘Halpin Loot,’” Halpin said. “They earn this currency through completing class jobs, exhibiting great behavior, doing extra credit work, etc. They have bank accounts and accumulate cash, which they spend as they bid on awarded items.”

This lesson allowed students to work on their writing through the persuasive letters, which included information about how they earn their Halpin Loot.

“To date, the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Halpin said. “For the past two weeks, students have been receiving auction donations via email or through snail mail. They are ecstatic.”

During their auction last Friday and Monday, the students auctioned off gift cards, puzzles, games, science-education kits and more. Some of the items were donated from families.

In the past, Halpin would be the auctioneer, but not so with this group of children.

“They wanted to do it,” Halpin said. “It’s pretty cute.”

Diego Garcia was one of the auctioneers, taking the role seriously and with enthusiasm.

“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “I just love being the auctioneer. I like having fun showing off the items. I just love the whole thing. It’s super-duper fun.”

When Irving Sendra took his turn as the auctioneer on Monday, he played up the items for the crowd.

“This has nice pieces, people,” he said when getting ready to auction off a Lego set, adding that it was a “huge box of Legos. This is a nice box of Legos here.”

“He’s the one who got the donation from Meryl Lynch,” Halpin said of Sendra. “The guy was so impressed with his letter.”

While some might guess that gift cards and big-ticket items would have drawn the largest interest, candy seemed to win that distinction.

The children had some fun with the hands-on learning opportunity.

“It was fun getting to write to businesses,” Josephine Sabaitis said.

Effie Hodges was playing the part of the banker on Monday, but she won her bid on a hermit crab at the previous day’s auction.

“We learned about supply and demand,” she said. “When the product is less wanted, the cost goes down, and when more people want it, the cost goes up.

“The auction’s always fun.”