It's inventory time. Busy stock clerks are marking down old merchandise and arranging the store's new line of convenience items. Inventory supervisor Morris Scales browses confidently, briefly peeking over each worker's shoulder to check prices on all the new items. Some of the workers wear the blue blazer with the blue-and-gold diamond emblem of the worker employes association.
Sound like Hecht's? Woodies? It's the Inter-High Connection, a student store established by the District Board of Education to give high schoolers firsthand business experience.
The shop functions as the on-site laboratory for the entrepreneurship component of the school board's 25-year-old Marketing and Distributive Education program (MDE), which offers 25 different business-oriented programs to students attending 10 District high schools and career centers, according to Nina L. Gaskin, MDE supervising director.
"It's helping me a great deal," said Deborah Thomas, 17, a cashier at the student store. Thomas is a student at Chamberlain Senior High School and Career Center. "I work at Morton's clothing store and I can apply what I'm learning to my job and it can help me advance."
Last year more than 2,000 students participated in all of the MDE programs, including adults attending night classes and students with mental and physical learning disabilities, Gaskin said. This year's enrollment is estimated at more than 3,000.
The programs offer preliminary courses for junior high students to help them learn about business careers, including advertising and display sales, marketing, and radio and television broadcasting.
The 15 students assigned to the Inter-High Connection are supervised by a three-member adult staff: William (Sonny) Better, the store manager/teacher who is responsible for maintaining inventory and managing the store; Karla Lomax, the teacher/assistant manager, who teaches business ownership, including classes in wholesale markup, human relations, sales promotion, advertising and display, inventory control and salesmanship; and Kenneth Tucker, the security community aide.
Gaskin said the MDE students divide their days between core high school classes in a morning or afternoon block and spending the rest of the day at the Inter-High Connection, taking classes or working. The store's schedule (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday) allows participating students to hold part-time retail jobs.
MDE participation can also help recent high school graduates find jobs by providing a record of work experience and training.
Succesful former MDE students include fashion designer Tawanna Jones, known professionally as Senoj Annawat; Sheila Gaither, assistant treasurer at American Security Bank; free-lance photographer Lucy Williams, and Phyllis Hall, an accounting specialist with the American Security Corp.
Looking back at her high school years at H.G. Woodson, Hall noted that MDE was thought to be a program for students who would not be successful. Flying in the face of convention, she insisted on pursuing the MDE program as well as her college preparatory classes.
"I realize this when I see some people I went to school with who didn't go into MDE. They went to college to major in biology and now many are sales clerks," she said. "I just thank God for the opportunity to be in a program like MDE, which showed me there was more than just being a doctor, lawyer or teacher."
When the Inter-High Connection first opened its doors in 1976 at 708 11th St. NW, it was stocked with student handicrafts. A recent move to 14th Street, between Park and Kenyon, will require a change in prices and the type of merchandise offered.
"We still have the student photographs, books, and ceramics, but we've added a few staples and kept our prices low to compete with the competition," said Lomax, nodding her head toward the giant Woolworth's across 14th Street.
Lomax said the store is open to the display of handicafts from District residents on consignment.
It is hoped the move and change in merchandise offered will allow the store to operate on a more secure business basis, according to Better, who believes the shop could be a major department store in five years with the right management.
Tucker said discussions were under way to open a second student store in the Lansburgh Cultural Center and to acquire work-study funds for the student staff.
When MDE was given the 14th Street structure by District Housing six months ago, Better described it as "a condemned building." He said the remodeling was done by trade students as a class project at a cost of only $6,000 for supplies.
The result is a brightly decorated yellow interior with orange poles and green table covers. Greeting cards, student books, crafts and photographs are arrayed on shelves and tables along one wall. Opposite them is the new stock: mops, brooms, scouring pads, dishwashing detergent, disinfectant, games, and light sports equipment. A glass counter at the front of the shop holds student-made jewelry and ceramic models with clocks.
To the right of the counter, where a thrift shop is planned, sit 60 folding chairs left over from the store's grand opening last week, which was attended by D.C. Public School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, school board member Barbara Lett Simmons, and newly apointed MDE board member Eric B. Holmes.
Holmes, a financial planner for Investors Group Corporation, is a former MDE student who recently graduated from American University with degrees in finance and marketing.
"The program helped me a whole heck of a lot," said Holmes, surveying the new Inter-Connection structure. "It's the exposure to new people and to the world of marketing and all it entails."