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Mary Pickels

On the popular television show “The Apprentice,” business mogul Donald Trump is known for squinting his eyes, curling his lips and dismissively telling contestants, “You’re fired.”

At Penn-Trafford High School, business teacher Kim Stefkovich turned to her roster of business management students and said, “You’re hired.”

“P-T Apprentice” was launched late last year, when Stefkovich, a first-year teacher, developed the project as a way to teach the students how to write a business plan and to incorporate their actual sales within the plan.

The students created T-shirt designs, which they sold, with the profits going to the American Cancer Society.

Stefkovich lost her father to cancer, a disease that in one way or another touches many people and their families.

Fifty-two business students in her two business management classes were divided into 10 companies, with CEOs, CFOs, marketing, technology and human resource managers.

Other students soon became involved. Art students helped design some of the T-shirts. Computer class students made the teams’ business cards. Accounting students will don auditing hats and determine sales and profit numbers when the project is completed.

The only mandate was that the T-shirts in some way reflect Penn-Trafford School District. Some shirts have a design only on the front, some on the front and back, and some continue on to the sleeves.

“The cost is different depending on the design of the shirt,” Stefkovich said.

“They were very creative,” she added.

The students set the shirts’ cost, all in the $8-$10 range.

“They were basically learning from the class, and from ‘The Apprentice’ show, different leadership styles and how to incorporate that into our teamwork,” Stefkovich said.

Scott Reese, of Four Seasons Sporting Goods in Penn Township, is the vendor for the project.

The students, Stefkovich said, take and place orders and handle the money.

By mid-January, the project had raised $1,400 for the ACS. Stefkovich hopes the final number will be closer to $2,000.

Students sell the shirts at school, sporting events and to friends and family members. They have put up posters and fliers in school hallways, and the shirts also have sold through word-of-mouth.

Two teams have proven particularly effective at selling their shirts, or perhaps their designs help sell themselves.

Senior John Friend’s company, JJ Bam Co., has sold more than 200 shirts, each bearing the logo “Maljan’s Maniacs.” Paul Maljan is the Penn-Trafford basketball coach.

“Everybody wears them to the games,” Friend said.

His team purchased the shirts for $4.50 and sold them for $8.

Friend said the project has been a pleasant surprise in a class he did not expect to enthrall him.

“I’d heard about business classes before,” he said, “but it was nothing like this. I heard it was kind of boring. This is more hands-on.”

“It’s real life,” Stefkovich said. “I try to break it down to their level.”

Alex Mack, CEO for JJ Bam Co., said the project represented “practical learning.”

One downside — getting some people who order T-shirts to pay up.

Bob Labik’s company, GU Inc., has sold more than 100 of its T-shirts, which promote a cancer cure. The front reads “Saving lives one T-Shirt at a time,” and the back reads “Life is a gift, help preserve it.”

“We were more straightforward with our approach,” Labik said.

Some students thought selling a product to benefit oneself or one’s company might provide more incentive.

“You are still doing it for a good cause,” Labik said. “It’s a good selling point, to be able to say it will benefit a charity.”

The project, he said, “breaks the monotony of regular class. It gives you more insight on what it takes to run a business.”

His team also paid $4.50 a shirt but sells them for $10.

GU team member Anthony Trapletti said, “It seemed like a good project; it definitely will benefit you later in life, if you want to own your own business or just work in the business world.”

“After we cut off sales, we will calculate how much they sold and spent. I’m going to have them project,” Stefkovich said, “if they had stayed in business three more years, what would be their growth?”

Sales will continue for a few more weeks, said Stefkovich, who plans to repeat the project next year.

“I’ll definitely do it again,” she said. “I’ve already had kids ask me what class this is. Teachers tell me how excited the kids are. I’m so proud of these kids. I started it, but they’re the ones that roll with it. I’m just here to guide them.”

Although she cannot offer them jobs, Stefkovich will give the winning team a bonus most high school students can appreciate — a free meal.

“I’m taking the whole team out to dinner,” she said.

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