At Sykesville Middle, learning is money in the bank

November 08, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Nearly 100 hands shot up as the auction opened in the sixth grade at Sykesville Middle School.

The 10- and 11-year-old students vied with their classmates Friday with offers that began at $1,000 and rose quickly -- not too steep for buyers who had access to thousands in play money.

Everyone tried mightily for the first item: a gift certificate to a Westminster restaurant.

Sold to Melvin Lee for $1,556.

Melvin had paid 150 times the face value of the item, but he smiled all the way to the bank at the back of the classroom.

"I just wanted something," said Melvin, clutching his $10 certificate. "I didn't want to leave without anything."

Melvin and his 134 Team I classmates had studied the intricacies of finance since school opened in September.

They all knew the value of a dollar but, tempted by favorite compact disks and popular posters, they threw thrift out the door.

The auction of items donated by area businesses was a bonus for lessons well-learned, said Diane Lewandowski, their math teacher.

"The auction was basically a reward for all the work done for nine weeks," she said.

The math classes received weekly "paychecks" and bonuses.

The children learned to open checking and savings accounts and budget their money.

Sixth-grade banking culminated last week with lectures from local bankers and the auction, which closed out most accounts.

Ms. Lewandowski said the unit gave the children a head start on sound money management.

"They can open checking accounts when they are 16," she said.

"We focused on check-writing, deposits and withdrawals."

When Lisa Smith, executive assistant at the Westminster Bank and Trust Co. and guest lecturer, demonstrated how to fill out a deposit slip for $15,000, one child asked if he "could just keep the money at home."

"Not today," answered Ms. Smith. "Come in and see us for a loan."

The few quips aside, the students asked the lecturers smart questions, Ms. Lewandowski said.

"They are learning real-world applications in banking, through a well-developed incentive program," said Rita Karr, another Team teacher.

The class was most impressed with a talk by Sherman Kerbel, a finance officer for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Ms. Lewandowski said.

"The children estimated operating costs for the stadium in the thousands," she said. "He spoke to them in millions."

The children put their own "thousands to work at the auction."

Each child had received minimum wage pay for the eight weekly hours of math -- with docks in pay for misbehavior.

"The amount depended on the behavior of the class as a whole," Ms. Lewandowski said.

Students could also earn salary bonuses for overtime and dedication to academic duty.

Extra dollars mounted until many had as much as $1,600 in the checkbooks they carried to the auction.

Those thrifty savers could afford to splurge.

The classmates checked their balances as Ms. Lewandowski, auctioneer for the day, called for silent bids.

Nearly every item generated a spirited show of hands.

Savings amassed for two months went quickly as determined buyers purchased their favorite tapes, Orioles memorabilia or an early Christmas present.

Most popular and most expensive was a CD by Green Day, which the auctioneer held until last.

Prices often rose above the $1,000 mark, and final sales frequently were settled by a minimal difference from bidders willing to spend their last dollars.

Patty Blanks paid $1,540 for a Redskins cap, which she planned to give to her brother. Ben Webster paid slightly less than Melvin Lee for another dinner certificate.

Elated after outbidding several others, Ben asked, "What did I buy?"

With that figured out, he said, "I am taking my mom out to dinner for her birthday."

Ben wrote a $1,532 check out to cash, endorsed it and handed it to Ms. Smith, who had switched from lecturer to banker. She advised Ben to recount his play money before leaving the bank to pay the auctioneer.

"I wish all our customers could be as nice as these kids," she said.

Ms. Smith then helped Suzanne Kalwa write $1,537 on her check for a "Lion King" poster.

"I liked the movie, and I am going to hang the picture in my room," Suzanne said. "I didn't mind spending all my money on it."

Randi Hamilton was the high bidder on a Baltimore Orioles Matchbox truck. She carefully subtracted $900 from her account and hoped her balance would keep her in the bidding for another item.

One little girl made the winning bid, only to discover she had insufficient funds to claim her prize. "Uh-oh, not enough money," she said and raced red-faced back to her seat.

Her embarrassment was short term. She soon rejoined the bidding but remembered to stop a dollar short of $1,544.

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