Sixth-graders learn about life 'in the adult world'

December 23, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

New Windsor Middle School student May Novalis observed something that often causes wage-earners to grumble after looking at their paycheck.

"They take out all these taxes," said 11-year-old May as she checked time cards and wrote checks."

"I wonder if we can make a donation to a charity and get a tax deduction?" asked Dan Skiles, 11.

As employees of the school's Cycle Completion Cooperative, all New Windsor sixth-graders learn about the life "in the adult world" while polishing their academic skills.

"One of things they learn about in social studies is how to run a business," said Joe Carr, a sixth-grade reading teacher. "In science, they learned about recycling, so we tried it here with paper."

The CCC recycles newspaper into novelty items, which are cataloged by students for sale and distribution.

The project's overall goal is to get students to work together and assume responsibility in a business environment, but the skills specific to subjects such as reading, language arts and math are also reinforced during the three-week project, which began Dec. 9.

There's even a community-service component, where some of the recycled products are donated to an area nursing home.

"We tried to work in every subject. Every teacher in the sixth grade [team] is involved," Mr. Carr said. "The kids are doing nothing but this." Students wrote business letters and applied -- for one of 23 jobs including those of chemist, custodian, mixer, inventory specialist, production manager.

Payroll employees use math skills and time cards to determine how much students should be paid for their work. The wage rate for all jobs is $4.50 an hour.

Dan, a salesperson, uses communication skills learned in language arts to promote products and lead guided tours of the five-classroom facility -- complete with two rooms for the paper -- mill, and art, payroll and catalog and sales departments.

Production managers apply the concept of assembly line production -- about which they learned in social studies -- when supervising employees' work, stocking materials and producing quality material through efficient work.

They are vigilant to ensure that supply keeps up with demand.

"We reject a lot of it," said Crystal Zile, a production manager in the paper mill, as she pressed her fingers into the damp, inky paper. "If it's lumpy or not thin enough, we reject it."

Her co-manager, Nathan Conrad, nodded. "If it doesn't work out, we take it back to the blenders," he said.

The CCC operates just like a real company by allowing for career changes and rewarding good work.

Jason Sible, formerly a custodian, became a shredder and now cuts newspapers to be blended with water for slurry, the paste from which the recycled paper is formed.

Since his career switch, Jason has instituted several ideas to increase production, such as shredding paper into a large bag rather than a bucket so that more paper is taken to the blenders at once.

"They were too small; it just wasn't working out," Jason said of the buckets. "I also told them to put the paper on the heaters to dry. There's a lot of space."

David Selby, once a transportation chief who brought over moist paper to be inspected and dried, is now a cutter -- not to be confused with a shredder because "our cutters are a little more controlled," according to Dan.

David cuts the dried paper that is taken to the art department, where manager Katie Tomarelli's 25 artists decorate the cut-outs with winter scenes, festive colors and holiday motifs before assembly workers fashion the artwork into earrings, ornaments or hair decorations to be cataloged by the sales department.

"A. J., our inventory specialist, works with the spread sheet," Derek Boswell, catalog and sales manager, said about classmate Anthony Jones, working at a personal computer. "This keeps track of all our products, how many we sold and the quantity we have."

The catalog writers were busy at another computer writing about how the factory project addresses the county's exit outcomes.

While the CCC recognizes and rewards resourcefulness, the company does penalize slackers, docks absentees and offers counseling or "rehabilitation" to those whose on-the-job behavior unsatisfactory.

"If they are absent, they don't get paid. If they are in rehabilitation, they get docked," said Audrey Bowman, math teacher and payroll department adviser. "And you lose $5 if you lose your name tag."

"If someone is not performing well, and it has to be pretty serious, they are docked pay," said Susan Case, who teaches language arts and advises the catalog and sales department.

Despite the docking and taxes, students still looked forward to their paychecks, which bought them one of three entertainment packages provided today by their advisers.

The students who earned the most money were served lunch by the teachers as they watched a movie in one room; the zTC next-highest wage earners got a buffet during their show in another room. The group with the least amount of money got minor refreshments during the film in a third room.

The students learned many lessons from their project, such as those with the most money get the best goodies and other implications of employment in the real world.

"Hey, you know, we get laid off just before Christmas," remarked payroll employee David Wallace about the company's dismantling today.

"So much for goodwill toward men," Dan observed.

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