January 21, 2015

“NOW I know what my parents do all day!” - Young Ameritowne 2015

This week, I welcome a guest author. Thank you to Friends' 4th grade teacher Liz Richards for this excellent account of a 'real-world' example of integrated learning at its finest.

Making money at Young Ameritowne
Two Mondays ago the 4th and 5th grade classes had the unique experience of testing how it feels to exercise adult responsibility. Playing the role of citizens in Young AmeriTowne (YAT) (an educational setting that teaches students about business, economics and free enterprise) students were accountable for arriving on time, keeping track of expenses, and making decisions about how to optimize profits for their businesses.  This real life simulation about the circular flow of money provided a memorable experience for our budding young citizens.
It all started the week after Thanksgiving when our students were introduced to the economic process and how it is a system that flows like a living organism.  Students learned about banking and the basic concepts associated with macro economics.  With those concepts in mind, they became acquainted with the types of jobs YAT offered, taking a survey to help determine how their particular strengths and interests might fit into different career options. Each business had an accountant and business manager, or students could choose to be utility technicians, photographers, journalists, doctors, cashiers or radio disc jockeys.  They filled out a job application, wrote a cover letter and interviewed for the position they most desired.  
This week's guest author
4th grade teacher Liz Richards
The students also had the opportunity to work as a democracy and elected their student mayor and magistrate.  They created ideas for laws to be followed during their day in Towne, and elected 2 that were enacted and enforced by the student police along with the common rules for student conduct.  

The last assignment before students were ready for their day in Towne was learning how to write checks, deposit slips, and recording these transactions in a register.  A giant emphasis was placed on keeping track of deposits and withdrawals so to avoid becoming overdrawn.  “Can you go to jail for that?” was the among many “What if…?” type questions that made for many juicy discussions of what happens in the real world when people don’t meet their financial responsibilities.  It was a great opportunity to ask the kids, “What kind of citizen do you want to be?” As they looked ahead, they expressed excitement for the prospect of taking on such adult responsibility.

After much preparation, we were all more than eager to see what Towne would be like. Upon arrival, students were trained in the nuts and bolts of their positions by YAT staff. To get the economic ball rolling, they applied for their business loans and submitted their order forms for radio, TV and newspaper advertising.  They made their non-profit donations and investment decisions known, and submitted forms for logos and slogans for signage and website design. After swearing in the mayor, judge and police officers, the Towne ribbon was cut and the economic cycle commenced.

Students scurried to their businesses and dove into meeting the demands of their customers.  With a break schedule in place, students took turns playing the role of consumer. They immediately deposited their paychecks at the bank and went about to spend their money at the snack shop, market or to submit song requests and shout outs at the radio station.  They could also withdraw their cash with an actual debit card at the ATM machine, electronically vote for the favorite business and fill out other surveys tabulated by the community service officer at the Towne Hall.
While the market and the snack shop sold real drinks and snacks, other businesses sold toys and trinkets to attract customers and maximize profits.  For a fee, the fitness center offered the chance to play an exercise-based video game that kept track of high scores to entice students to keep playing.  When the newspaper was ready for publication, newspaper sales people went about to sell papers.  There, students could read short articles about what the mayor was up to, which businesses were among the favorites and to see who was offering deals through posted advertising.

To stand back and watch the kids deal with the problems all too familiar in the real world was quite amazing as this is where the learning was most powerful.  They had to deal with swiping their debit cards correctly, forgotten passwords, not balancing with the bank, being overdrawn or running out of deposit slips. The snack shop ran out of ice cream and eventually all their merchandise.  Snack shop employees were reprimanded by the judge for price gouging as they took advantage of high demand when they saw the last of their merchandise dwindle. The accountants for each business had to keep track of income and expenses to help shop-keepers make decisions about prices, product placement and advertising, as they all wanted to come out ahead.
It was busy and intense to watch, and sometimes stressful for the kids in the throes of all the decision making, job demands and the potential of running out of money.  Overall, there was an overwhelmingly positive response about the real-life experience and lots of energy in wanting to have another chance knowing what they know now.  

The students had fun playing grown-up for a day, and in the end were pretty sure they could wait for the real thing.   

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