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When Michelle Hopkins first started Central Relaxation with 16 of her middle-school students, they almost thought they'd never be able to sell anything. Each time they tried to make a new bath bomb or body butter, disaster would strike: the products would be misshapen, they'd fall apart or they'd have strange things growing on them.

The 16 girls from Central York Middle School who are running the business kept at it, though. They spent weeks perfecting the formulas, solving problems and marketing their products. Since they started selling their bath products on Dec. 1, the student-run business has filled 405 orders all over the country.

"It's not about making the profit, it's about the experience," Hopkins said.

Hopkins is a family science teacher at Central York Middle School who is helping her students run Central Relaxation, a business that sells affordable bath fizzles, lip balm and body butters. The girls came up with the idea because they were frustrated with the prices they saw at popular beauty stores such as Lush.

The process started when Hopkins applied for a grant through Real World Scholars, an organization that focuses on teaching entrepreneurial skills to young students. They provide funding and an e-commerce platform to teachers who want to start a business with their students.

Running a business: The 16 girls working with Hopkins on Central Relaxation aren't in this for a grade. In fact, it's not a class at all. The group meets during its flex period, which is comparable to a study hall, or after school to quickly make and package as many products as they can in a 42-minute time period.

The group is a mixture of seventh- and eighth-graders, and they're not an all-female group on purpose. Hopkins said it just worked out like that, but she's excited to see young women interested in entrepreneurial skills, the science behind making the products and problem-solving.

"It's a learning experience on how to work a business," said Taylor Haas, an eighth-grader involved in Central Relaxation. She said learning about the money-management aspect has been her favorite part. "It took a lot to figure out how much to sell the stuff for."

While some girls create new products or send orders out, others are working on informational packets, designing the packaging, marketing strategies, presentations for area businesses and dealing with the dishes that are dirtied during the production process.

Each of the girls helps in every step of the process. They meet two or three times each week, sometimes more if there's a lot to do, and they switch jobs so they are all trained in everything.

Through their work, they are sharpening their problem-solving skills, their abilities to work together in a group and multidisciplinary skills. Those include chemistry to create the products, working on design for the logo and packaging and marketing their business through social media.

"Nobody's the boss," said Maddi Smith, a seventh-grader. "Ms. Hopkins tells us what to do, but she also accepts our input."

The girls sell their products at special events, like craft fairs, but also on their website. They've filled orders from all over the country. Hopkins said they've shipped orders as far as Michigan and California.

The products: They started out just selling bath fizzles, also known as bath bombs, but they've since added T-shirts with their logo, body butters and most recently, lip balm. They are rolling out three new scents for Valentine's Day: white tea and ginger, Asian pear and lily and blackberry vanilla. The bath fizzles are $4 each, the lip balm is $1, and the body butters vary in price.

All of the money earned is used to buy ingredients for their products and anything else they might need for the business. Any profit they make is donated. The group just donated $400 to the York County SPCA, and next they will donate their profits to Kids Helping Kids, an organization that works with pediatric cancer patients at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

Come next year, the business will welcome a new set of students as the eighth-graders move on to high school. Hopkins said she isn't sure if they will decide to continue Central Relaxation or if the students will want to start a new business.

No matter what, the seventh-graders involved now are planning on working the business again next year, like Maddi, whose favorite product is the buttered rum bath fizzle.

Lindsay Richeson, a seventh-grader, also said she'd come back to the business next school year. She said working with Central Relaxation has piqued her interest in running her own business some day.

"I like getting a taste for what running a business is like," she said. "I think it would be cool to start my own business."

This is what Hopkins hopes the girls get out of their time together.

"I want them to know you can do anything you want," Hopkins said. "There's always a solution to something."

You can purchase Central Relaxation products by visiting their website: centralrelaxation.com 

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