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Ligonier Valley students join merchants in marketing deal

| Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 2:54 p.m.

Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce merchants have joined with Ligonier Valley School District students and teachers on an enterprising marketing venture.

The Recognizing Amazing Merchants and Students project will showcase items hand-crafted by the students that will be displayed and sold at 15 shops and restaurants in Ligonier in April.

The idea was introduced during a strategic planning session last March between chamber board members and other community leaders.

"There was discussion about the next generation of merchants and the potential for entrepreneurship opportunities with high school students," said district Superintendent Christine Oldham. "The enthusiasm of our faculty, the creativity of our students and the overwhelming support of our community's business owners took this idea to the next level."

The school board approved the project in September.

From initiating and researching project feasibility to marketing the products, students from R. K. Mellon Elementary, Laurel Valley Elementary, Ligonier Valley Middle School, Ligonier Valley High School and the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center have been involved in the process from start to finish.

Students in Don Bakewell's seventh- and eighth-grade technical education classes have been crafting 24 wall shelves.

"Each student has a different area of responsibility," Bakewell said.

He said the work provides the students with an opportunity to be a part of a community project.

"It is great to be involved in the community and help do something that will benefit Ligonier," said Al Vigliotti, 14. "It has been a change of pace from normal class work."

Vigliotti said the students will have a unique opportunity to see the products sold at stores in the borough.

"It will be cool to see people buy what we made," he said. "Kids our age don't get many opportunities like this."

Eighth-grade social studies teacher Joe Skoloda said the project challenged the students to use math and marketing skills that will help them in life.

"Our No. 1 job as an educator is to prepare these students for the real world," Skoloda said. "It's not just about learning. They get to apply what they know."

Business and accounting students track inventory, assist with product pricing and coordinate internal marketing efforts. Students in all grade levels have been crafting coasters, bowls, sculpted items, paintings, stationery sets, wall shelves, wood-cut animals, jewelry and postcards.

By producing artwork to sell to the community, students said, they are establishing a connection between students and the town.

"It creates a positive image that students can work together. It makes a positive image for us," said high school senior Kristen Gabelt.

Technical education students at the high school have crafted napkin holders, wooden animals and Christmas ornaments. Art students created ceramic jewelry, batik and tie-dyed scarves, ink drawings and coasters.

Music classes are coordinating student recordings for CDs, and a cookbook is being produced.

High school instructor Tom Bridge said the project is building confidence in his students.

"This showcases the students' talents," he said. "We show them how to use tools so one day, they can use these tools in their own homes."

On April 4, students will meet the merchants and showcase their products at a Valley Marketplace at Ligonier Valley Middle School.

"The merchants are extremely impressed with the high-quality work exhibited by the students," said Director Holly Mowrey of the chamber.

Mowrey said the Marketplace will provide the students with a real-life experience as to how business owners select products to be sold in their stores. Students will meet the merchants, discuss their products and process orders. An open house for the general public will be held 5 to 7 p.m. May 8. Merchants will feature the student-made products in their stores and customers will have an opportunity to meet the student artists and purchase their creations. Proceeds from the sales will be put toward next year's program.

Participating businesses include Allegory Gallery, Amica, Betsy's of Ligonier, Carol and Dave's Roadhouse, Cool Springs Express, Connections Cafe, Dovecote, The Finishing Touch, G Squared Gallery, Ligonier Sweetshop/Pathfinder Photo, Ligonier Valley Historical Society, Main Exhibit Gallery, Second Chapter Books, Song of Sixpence and The Toy Box.

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