During the 2018-19 school year, students Brooke Trombley, Avery Jakubowski, Alex Hurford, Sam Rouleau and Nolan Gross and their teacher, Susan Howey, far right, sell their product, Fan Faces.

During the 2018-19 school year, students Brooke Trombley, Avery Jakubowski, Alex Hurford, Sam Rouleau and Nolan Gross and their teacher, Susan Howey, far right, sell their product, Fan Faces.

Photos provided by Susan Howey

Educator wins award for teaching students to run a business

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 28, 2020

GROSSE POINTE PARK — For the past three years, Susan Howey and her fourth-grade students at Trombly Elementary School have owned and operated the successful business Fan Faces.

The student-run company takes photo cutouts of family, friends and pets and attaches them to sticks. The cheering sticks can be used for any occasion, including at sporting events, graduations, birthdays, weddings and holidays.

Because of Fan Faces, Howey was one of five teachers from across the country named as winners of the 2020 Leavey Awards for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education. The award-winning programs represent schools from the elementary level through high school in a wide array of fields, from business to science to special education.

The Leavey Awards, endowed by the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation, based in Los Angeles and administered by Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, were created in 1977 to reward educators who develop innovative ways of teaching students about the free enterprise system.

“More than ever, our nation and its economy need entrepreneurs, small-business owners and business visionaries,” David Harmer, president and CEO of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, stated in a press release. “These leaders are coming from the classrooms of Leavey Award recipients. People are now realizing what Thomas and Dorothy Leavey knew 43 years ago — teaching future generations to develop an appreciation, knowledge and enthusiasm for the American free enterprise system is essential to ensuring our nation’s continued success.”

Each winner, including Howey, received a $7,500 award. In four decades, more than 600 teachers have received over $4 million in prize money.

“I was thrilled. It’s nice to have some good news,” said Howey, who informed her students of the award through a newsletter. “I couldn’t wait to share it with the students. Teaching the kids about running a business is what earned me the award.”

On July 23, this year’s Leavey Award recipients shared their award-winning programs with each other during a panel discussion via Zoom videoconferencing. Members of the public, including Howey’s students, were invited to view the event.

Fan Faces took off three years ago when Howey met Real World Scholars, a nonprofit organization that believes in entrepreneurial learning, real world experiences and running a business inside the classroom. Real World Scholars EdCorps program provided Howey’s class the seed money and support to fund Fan Faces.

Local business owner Ellen Durand also helped the students by mentoring them. Howey’s fourth-grade classes have continued with Fan Faces every school year since it was created.

The students, better known as co-owners of Fan Faces, are the backbone of the enterprise. While Fan Faces started with cheering sticks, the business has grown to add bookmarks, cupcake toppers and refrigerator magnets. The students even created a theme song to promote their goods.

“The students want to do it,” Howey said. “They love it, which is why I love it.”

From writing commercials to using technology to learning about advertising, the students gain many skills. Accounting is a part of the business, as is communicating with the public via social media. The students also collaborate with each other, solve problems, use their innovative and creative skills, develop their math and writing skills, and build their confidence.

“The first year, we did everything you would need to do to launch a business from ground zero,” Howey said. “I am super proud of them.”

The Fan Faces students are now entering fifth, sixth and seventh grade in the district. In an effort to further teach students, Howey invites local entrepreneurs into her classroom to share with the students how they created their own businesses. Fan Faces was able to continue during the stay-at-home orders.

Now in its third year, Fan Faces has earned more than $8,500 in sales. The students not only have learned how to run a successful business, but they have opened up their hearts, as well, by donating $5,500 of their profits to several nonprofit organizations, including All About Animals, Leader Dogs for the Blind, EdCorps, the Australian Red Cross, South Australian Country Fire Service and Detroit Institute for Children’s SLIDE Program.

The students even coordinated a GoFundMe page to help a child battling cancer and donated cupcakes from Pink Elephant Cupcakes in St. Clair Shores to medical workers at a local hospital. The Fan Faces co-owners also have purchased items for the classroom and helped families in need. The remaining funds were placed back into the program.

Howey, who always wanted to be a teacher, graduated from Michigan State University and began her teaching career in the Chicago Public Schools, where she taught first grade for seven years. While in Chicago, the educator earned a master’s degree in reading and learning disabilities. She began teaching at Trombly 20 years ago.

Because Trombly closed as an elementary at the end of the 2019-20 school year, Howey will relocate to Monteith Elementary School this fall. She plans to bring Fan Faces with her.

For more information on Fan Faces, check out its Facebook page.