65 fifth-graders are all business at Exchange City


March 08, 2001|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHO'S BETTER at spending their parents' money than kids 10 and 11 years old?

So to give these eager young shoppers some idea of just how hard it is to earn and retain the family income, 65 fifth-graders at St. John the Evangelist School in Severna Park have completed a five-week course introducing them to the practices of sound employment and wise consumerism.

After studying proper business concepts in their classroom, the young entrepreneurs put their new skills to the test last week in a true-to-life setting at an educational learning lab, Exchange City, run by Junior Achievement of Maryland.

Junior Achievement is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., and offers programs in 108 countries. It was founded in 1919 by Theodore Vail, president of American Telephone & Telegraph Co.

While its first programs were designed for high school students, today JA programs are available in kindergarten through 12th grade. JA is funded by more than 200 U.S. corporate and foundation grants, and its mission is to ensure that every child in America has a fundamental understanding of the free-enterprise system.

"Maryland is the first site on the East Coast to have an Exchange City," says Jennifer Bailey, assistant director of Junior Achievement of Central Maryland. "The `city' has been up and running for a year." St. John's is one of about 30 schools expected to participate this school year.

Exchange City, in Owings Mills, is a 10,000-square-foot, hands-on learning lab for fifth-graders from Central Maryland. Here they have the opportunity to practice what they've learned in class, and to "reinforce their language, social studies, math and technology skills," says Bailey.

Fourteen adult volunteers from St. John (one for each business in the "city") accompanied the pupils to Exchange City and attended a training session of their own. Junior Achievement also provides material for a follow-up program.

Schools are charged $30 per schoolchild for the classroom material and the visit to Exchange City. "The actual cost is approximately $100 per child," says Bailey, who adds that the difference is paid by Junior Achievement. The St. John pupils were sponsored by their school's Home School Association.

"Because the site is so visual," says Bailey, "it's hard to describe without seeing it." There's a post office, a radio station, a newspaper, a wellness center, an international shop, a sports shop, a bank, a nature shop, a sign shop, a cafe, a warehouse, a video production and Web-site design shop, a city hall and a payroll center." Storefronts evoke the feeling of a real town, and each business has the equipment for making products.

Before going to the pseudo-city, an election was held to select a judge and a mayor. Phil Donoho was named mayor for the day, and Luke Waesche was named judge.

The mayor was kept busy, says St. John teacher Maggie Harvey. "He was in charge of any problems that came up, such as if people in business were not getting along. It gave him a perspective of what the principal has to do. It was a huge job, and he handled it well."

"The students really enjoyed themselves," says Harvey, who said that all the other schoolchildren had to go through a job interview by an "employer," a teacher from another class.

"I think that the experience has helped them have the understanding of how our economy works. They've learned the difference between goods and services, to be more thoughtful in spending. They received an Exchange City paycheck to spend while they were there. They also had to pay taxes.

"They had to take out a loan and make a service or product to sell to pay back their loans," she says. "Eight of them were able to pay off their loans." The youngsters produced a newspaper, The Exchange City Journal, which included advertisements for the other businesses, and reported the day's events.

"It was very well-organized," says Harvey. Students in the wellness center sponsored a sit-up contest; the winner performed 138 sit-ups. His prize was a Boo Boo Bunny, a wash cloth folded and fixed with rubber bands to look like a rabbit in order to hold an ice cube on a child's small injury. The fifth-grade employees of the wellness center made the bunnies.

Girls in another business made clothespin dolls, and in order to get the boys to buy the dolls, they came up with the idea to put each one on a Popsicle stick and call it a snowboard. Everybody wanted them, says Harvey.

The nature shop made clip-on earrings, which were big sellers with girls and boys, she adds.

Pupils brought their lunches and ate in the cafe, where Sarah Beth Lacey and Amy Harrison served popcorn and juice.

Harvey wasn't the only one impressed with Exchange City. Ronald Valenti, superintendent of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, of which St. John is a member school, visited the pupils.

"It was worthwhile enough to try again," says Harvey.

For information on Exchange City, call 441-394-7211.

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