WAIMEA — Students of Waimea Elementary School bustled from table to table Friday as teams of fifth-graders served up one cup of lemonade after another as part of a project that turns lemons into lessons in entrepreneurship.
“Our secret ingredient is really just teamwork,” said Daxon Lee-Valdez, 10, at the table where his team, Lemon Heads, was selling its lemonade. “It’s all simple ingredients, but with teamwork it comes out great.”
The Lemonade Alley program challenges students to work in teams to create a business plan, design a recipe and develop a lemonade stand business. Along the way, students hone and practice an array of skills, from entrepreneurship to collaboration to creative problem-solving.
The original Lemonade Alley started in Honolulu in 2011, said Leslie Walker, a fifth-grade teacher at Waimea Elementary School, and was organized by Bizgenics Foundation.
On Friday, the students got the chance to open up shop to the school’s student body and visitors, where customers exchanged tickets they’d purchased for a quarter a piece for a cup of lemonade, often with the option of upsizing their drink for an extra ticket or two.
Walker said there were 18 teams in total, each with their own spin on the classic drink.
At Niko’s Lemons, aptly named for team member Niko Lemons, the group had three flavors for sale to customers: strawberry lemonade, blueberry lemonade and “just fresh lemonade.”
Lemons said it wasn’t easy perfecting the flavors for their product, which led to a lot of tinkering and experimenting before they got their lemonades right.
The secret, he said, was zest and mint.
“It makes it a little more lemony, the zest,” Lemons said. “And the mint makes it more fresh.”
Walker said students were encouraged to experiment with their recipes as part of the project, including finding an alternative to standard refined sugar to sweeten the drink, such as agave, natural sugars or stevia.
“And we were trying to focus on the healthy and using fresh fruits rather than processed,” she said.
Lilliena Gorai-Lau, 10, of the Lemon Sharks team, said the team included her mom’s mango puree in their lemonade.
“I think that makes it sweeter and it gives it more flavor,” she said. “We tried it without the mango, and it just tasted like sour.”
The mango also provides much of the sweetener in the drink.
“It’s just that and agave,” she added.
And while lemonade was the name of the game on Friday, many teams stepped up that game to draw in as many customers as possible, offering extras like garnishes or snacks to complement their drinks.
There’s also a charitable element to the program. While half of the proceeds collected by each team goes toward an end-of-the-year field trip, said Walker, each team also chose a nonprofit to receive the other half.
The Lemon Heads, for example, decided to support children’s hospitals in California, said Lee-Valdez, who said he hopes it can “help people survive with their problems in health.
“And hope that I can save someone’s life with that money I donate,” he added.
The Lemon Sharks, said Gorai-Lau, were supporting The Marine Mammal Center.
“So that certain mammals like the Hawaiian monk seal don’t go extinct,” she said. “And so that they could be helped.”
Walker said she felt like the project was a success, especially with the amount of support from the community. She credited an anonymous donor, Walmart and Costco — as well as support through DonorsChoose.org, the Waimea community and families for making the event possible.
“It wasn’t about the money or the tickets,” she said. “It was about being together as a community and coming together as a school.”
And students said they believe other schools ought to expand the program and bring lemonade and opportunities for entrepreneurship to their own students.
“It can teach them how to start on a business,” said Gorai-Lau, “and boost their confidence on how to do stuff.”