Students honor Mollie Tibbetts by ‘paying it forward’ with class project

Students at BGM Elementary in Brooklyn sell products as part of an entrepreneurship project on Dec. 12, 2019. (MARY GREEN/KCRG)

BROOKLYN, Iowa (KCRG) - Months of work finally paid off Thursday for the fourth graders at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom Elementary in Poweshiek County.

“It took a pretty long time,” fourth-grader Mya Beck said.

Over the last couple of months, all 50-some students had to develop their own businesses from scratch, figuring out what they wanted to sell, setting price points, and advertising. Then they sold their products during the school's annual Winter Concert on Thursday as part of an entrepreneurship project.

Students even worked overtime to design their storefronts, which were made of three-sided poster boards that were decorated, colored, painted and cut to stand out from the rest of the class.

“We had to do it in recess time and stuff like that,” fourth-grader Jack Doty said.

Once their concert performance was up, it was go-time for the students.

From “Ellie's Excel-latte Drinks,” whipping up coffee, tea, and hot cocoa, to Jack's “Mad Batter” brownies, filled with peanut butter cups, to “Mya's Emoji Stress Balls,” each handcrafted with a different face drawn on, there were more than 40 great ideas on display in the school’s cafeteria, up for sale while the older students sang in their portion of the concert.

But even cooler is how their customers paid.

Anyone who wanted a baked good, stress ball, slime, or even a birdhouse could contribute a free-will donation.

“Any money we raise, it will go to the Stead Children's Hospital, and we're not just doing it because we want to be on the news,” fourth-grader Ellie English explained. “We're doing it out of the kindness of our hearts."

In return for a donation, customers then received a “Mollie's Movement” card, symbolizing the message that Mollie Tibbetts lived out. Tibbetts’ family members passed out the cards, on which were printed a quote from Mollie, encouraging those who carry the card to live as she did.

“Paying it forward with different and random acts of kindness,” BGM student-teacher Morgan Collum said.

Not long ago, Tibbetts herself was a student at BGM, graduating from high school in 2017.

“We all knew her in some way,” English said.

Doty’s family is friends with Tibbetts’.

“I remember her graduating,” he said.

While Beck was her cousin.

“She was a great cousin, and she was a great friend,” she said.

Their teacher, Collum, was also Tibbetts’ cousin.

"It's overflown my cup that they want to do this in honor of her,” she said.

Collum has told her students stories about Tibbetts and her kindness throughout the school year.

“Sometimes you think as a teacher, 'What are they going to pay attention to? What's going to go in one ear and out the other ear?'” she said. “But I feel like the stories I've told about Mollie are something that they've really held on to."

With those stories, the students have learned what Tibbetts stood for.

“Mollie really emphasized that being a good person is one of the best things that you can be,” Collum said.

With Collum’s time as a student-teacher ending Friday, the day after the concert, it was clear that her students understood what she wanted to teach them this year about her cousin.

“Just because we're kids — well, that's what people say at least — we can make the world change in a simple way,” English said.

Now they can't wait to donate however much they make to the kids at Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, a place that was special to Tibbetts, who participated in the University of Iowa’s Dance Marathon as a student and was studying to become a child psychologist.

“I'll imagine the children's faces with big, bright smiles,” Beck said.

Collum can't wait to see how far Mollie's message takes them.

“I think this is something that they're going to be able to reflect on years down the road and say, 'Wow, I did a really cool thing in fourth grade,’” she said.