One-third of the New Albany sixth-grade class recently designed business plans for an undeveloped portion of Market Square for a scool pilot program called "Opportunity Knocks."

One-third of the New Albany sixth-grade class recently designed business plans for an undeveloped portion of Market Square for a scool pilot program called "Opportunity Knocks."

The project challenged students to work in groups of five or six and create a logo, mission statement and slogan for a business to be built on 6 acres at the corner of Johnstown Road and Market Street, said sixth-grade teacher Mary Grefka.

"As a team, we really wanted to look at how we were using this (semester) exam time (for seventh- and eighth-graders)," she said. "We knew we wanted to do something a little more innovative, in line with 21st-century skills."

Three sixth-grade teams spent Jan. 18 and 19 learning from business leaders about different professions, and each student was assigned one of the professions for the project. Grefka said the students served as either chief executive officer, product developer, marketing director, communications director or architect/builder.

Parents and community volunteers on Jan. 20 chose the best project out of each of the five classrooms participating. Those five projects were presented to a six-member panel of judges Jan. 23 and two were chosen as the best plans.

The judging panel included Tony Ruscilli of Ruscilli Construction, Mike Tripplett of the biopharmaceutical section of Batelle, Todd Keuhn of Wendy's International, Rob Mason of Insight Bank, David Hirsh of Atrium Buying Corp. and Cheri Lehmann, a New Albany-Plain Local school board member.

The five finalists presented plans for: the New Albany Recreation Center; Cielo Dolce, an Italian bakery; Tail'Z Up, a pet store and boarding center; the New Albany Bark Park for dogs; and Fitness 101, a sports training facility.

Each group explained the project, including the benefits to the community and estimated costs.

The two chosen as the best were the New Albany Recreation Center and Cielo Dolce.

The New Albany Recreation Center project was created by Rachel Santantonio, Jackie Lipnos, Trevor Linton, Ian Shaw and Vinitha Justi.

The Cielo Dolce project was created by Lindsay Altschild, Garrett Kluesener, Laurent Calero, Lauren Crosson and Kailee Pursch.

"For me, I thought the visuals stood out," Lehmann said of the two best projects. "They were clear about their mission and purpose, and their communications (plan) overall flowed nicely and tied in with their visuals."

Triplett said the project supported critical thinking and problem solving, two key factors in education.

"We're trying to develop how to think," he said. "Formulating solutions to problems that are open-ended is critical to education."

Grefka said the project included all study areas and provided the students with more realistic learning and a way to get "authentic feedback from community members on their work."

Middle school principal Andy Culp said the students will learn the actual plan for the area in several weeks, when representatives of the New Albany Co., which owns the land, will present the plans. Local officials have discussed putting a recreation and fitness center with some retail-related components on the 6 acres.

Culp said there is interest in having the entire sixth grade complete "Opportunity Knocks" in the future.