PUNCHING A TIME clock. Paying off a loan. Pretty serious stuff for fifth-graders. Unless you are the residents of Exchange City, a Junior Achievement program piloted in two Carroll County elementary schools this year.
The program, which Sandymount Elementary pupils recently concluded, involves six weeks of life-skills training, such as filling out checks, making deposits and balancing a checkbook.
Pupils also gain basic economic knowledge, such as learning about supply and demand, and the difference between needs and wants. They put this information to use on a daylong field trip to Exchange City at the Junior Achievement of Central Maryland offices in Owings Mills.
The children report to their jobs in one of 14 businesses and get to work running the city.
The Sandymount pupils were accompanied by 15 adult volunteers, including Melvin Mills, president of Mills Communications, who went to help the youngsters stay on track.
Mills, who is chairman of Carroll County's Junior Achievement board of directors, said he was sold on Exchange City as soon as he heard of the concept.
Pupils were interviewed by a panel of four teachers for various jobs. Positions such as mayor and judge, however, were chosen by pupil ballot after applicants presented position speeches.
"I think [the pupils] did a great job," said Deb Kiley, Sandymount's fifth-grade team leader.
But all was not bliss in Exchange City that day.
When one pupil signed a check with another child's name, Mills advised the young owner of the multipurpose center to take the issue to court.
"I told him that in the real world, if someone forged a check, they would be arrested," said Mills.
But after hearing the case, the judge made an unusual ruling: No suing in Exchange City.
Mills brought the youngsters' attentions back to real life, arguing that a person would be fined or sent to jail for forging a check.
"This is one way to make sure that pupils really know what is happening in the business world," said Mills.
It was mainly through his efforts that Sandymount and Robert Moton were able to participate in this program.
Although school officials were enthusiastic about the program, they thought the $30-per-pupil price tag too much for the educational budget.
"That encouraged me to get my creative juices flowing," said Mills, who told Sandymount's PTA he would pay half the tuition for the school's 90 fifth-graders if it found a way to pick up the rest.
Other businesses stepped forward to offer support, enabling the children to participate in the program at no cost to the schools.
A similar arrangement has been set up between BB&T bank and Robert Moton Elementary's PTA, whose fifth-graders will attend in February.
"I would encourage every business in Carroll County to get involved," said Mills.
"This Junior Achievement program fits in with the economics and social studies they are already learning," he said. "What better way to get practical experience in what they're learning?"
Perfect gifts for those with unique tastes will be available at the Carroll County Arts Council fine crafts sale in the council gallery, 15 E. Main St., Westminster.
The work of 13 local artists will be displayed through Dec. 23. Items include furniture, clothing, jewelry and decorative artwork.
Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
A folksy Christmas
Shoppers with a taste in folk craft items are encouraged to check out the Homespun Harmony craft show this weekend and next at Carroll County Farm Museum.
Presented in conjunction with the museum's annual holiday tour, the show will offer dolls, country accent pieces, candles and other handmade items from Maryland and Pennsylvania artisans.
The show, to be held in a restored 19th-century barn, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Dec. 8; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 9; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 10.
Admission to the farm museum grounds will be $1.
New year, new jobs
Job-seekers are invited to join Carroll Community College's Business Employment Resource Center as it explores the hottest occupations for next year.
A free workshop, "What's Happening in Maryland's Job Market: Hot Occupations" is sponsored by the college's Renew program.
It will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today in the college's Student Center, second floor of the Great Hall on the Washington Road campus.
Information and registration: 410-386-8420.
Coffee and community
Support Carroll County's less fortunate at Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalist coffeehouse at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at the church, off Route 140 in Finksburg.
Admission is $5 per person. The event will feature music from local entertainers Pursuit of Happiness, Moonsalt, Naomi Bernstein and Gerry Galuardi. Light refreshments will be available.
Proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity of Carroll County.
Amy L. Miller's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.