HERMISTON - Emily Colon and Cassie Dircksen can tell you how many pencils you can buy for 55 cents. They can easily count the coins stuffed in students' small fists and fish out the best-looking pom-pom ball.

The fifth-grade students who work at the Rocky Heights Elementary School student store are fast with the cash and move through the picky students like the best wheelers and dealers.

But mention words like "entrepreneurship" and "inventory" and they look at each other and shrug.

"They don't know inventory, huh?" said teacher Gary Miller. "They should."

For about 10 years, Rocky Heights has opened its school store, stocked with school supplies and toys, outside of his classroom, except during the days of extreme weather.

Fifth-grader Chris Powney carefully studied the football pencils until he found his favorites - the Jets, Falcons, Patriots and Buccaneers.

Fifth-grader Cassie Greene purchased a glider and a pom-pom ball for 70 cents.

"I got the ball for my brother," she said before returning to the store to see if she could purchase something else with her tinkling change.

Fifth-grader Samantha Webb stormed back to the store with a bright green gum eraser in the palm of her hand.

"I want my money back," she demanded. "It smells funny."

Dircksen quickly hands the correct change back to her and puts the eraser back inside the store.

"The fifth-graders are the worst," Colon admits after the holiday season-like rush.

The saleswomen love working at the store, mostly because they can practice their math skills.

"I like working with money and people," Colon said. "I want to work in business someday."

Miller explained that several students work at the store, swapping out during lunch and recess hours. At the end of the day, they total up how much they've made, and even calculate their profits.

Right now, the store has about $50 saved up, but most of that will go back into buying products that the students help chose, and go into an end-of-the-year lunch at someplace like McDonald's or Dairy Queen.

Each student is required to fill out an application and keep their grades up, Miller said.

"I've only had to fire one student, and that was for not keeping up his grades," he said.

The students are required to be responsible, even if they don't have the knack of counting coins quickly.

"I left a calculator out for them, just in case," he said.

Even so, if one or two of the students are just a couple of pennies short, Miller has requested that his staff go ahead and let the students have their purchases. After all, repeat business is good business, he said.

The only thing that the student store workers don't do is pay the bills.

"I think we could get into some trouble that way," he said with a smile.

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Teri Meeuwsen is a reporter in the East Oregonian Hermiston Bureau. She can be reached at (800) 522-0255 (ext. 1302 after hours) or by e-mail tmeeuwsen@eastoregonian.com.

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