Fifth-graders spend a day running their own city

Program teaches skills of business, government

November 18, 2001|By Tom Kim | Tom Kim,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A flurry of fifth-graders from Sandymount Elementary School descended upon Owings Mills on Friday. Their mission: Maximize profits while avoiding hefty fines.

About 100 pupils from the Carroll County school, along with teachers, parents and local entrepreneurs, were participants in Junior Achievement's Exchange City, a youth business education program that marked its first anniversary Friday. The aim is to teach pupils firsthand how to run businesses and manage government.

"The kids take on roles of producers and consumers," said Jennifer Bailey, assistant director of Junior Achievement, a national youth business education organization. "They learn what free trade is all about."

Miniature municipality

The pupils spend a day running Exchange City, a 10,000-square- foot miniature municipality tucked away in an office building in Owings Mills. The city includes a radio station, newspaper, post office, bank and other businesses. Adults play supervisory roles while the pupils run the show during the five-hour program.

Exchange City gives pupils "firsthand experience on what our country is based on -- the free enterprise system," Bailey said.

In the city, pint-sized entrepreneurs and government employees scurry from store to store to hawk wares and pay fines levied by the police, who are easily identified by their blue caps. Town residents write checks and use a form of currency that closely resembles oversized monopoly bills to buy goods.

Joey Wade, 11, spent Friday working at the post office, where he retrieved and sorted mail. The day went pretty well except for the $1 fine he received for running. Running is prohibited in Exchange City, something his friend Walker was quick to point out as a town officer.

For the unfortunate ones who were fined, the next destination was City Hall, where they faced Judge Gianna Campitelli, 10. She heard her share of excuses, especially from those caught running. The most common defense was "I was power walking."

"I like giving out fines and being in control. That's cool," Gianna said with a smile.

Even though she enjoyed her stint as a judge, Gianna said she still intends to become a teacher. Being a judge would be a close second choice.

6 weeks of preparation

The Sandymount pupils spent about six weeks preparing for their day in Exchange City. They elected a mayor and judge and selected owners for each of the businesses.

As in the real world, pupils applying for certain positions had to submit resumes and undergo interviews, especially for the three most coveted positions -- disc jockey, police officer and popcorn maker.

Upon arrival in Exchange City, each business applied to the bank for a loan to purchase supplies.

"It gives [the kids] a good understanding of working at a real job, having income and having to pay for a loan," said Carol Terrell, a Finksburg resident whose son, Tom, participated in the program.

But unlike the real world, the average height of the residents of Exchange City was about 4 feet 10 inches.

Fifth-graders from Baltimore and Carroll, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties have participated in the program. The facility saw about 2,300 pupils last year and expects more than 5,000 this year, Bailey said.

Founded in 1919, Junior Achievement aims to teach schoolchildren in kindergarten through 12th grade to value business, economics and free enterprise, and to encourage them to seek careers in those fields.

The Colorado Springs-based nonprofit organization has 156 branches throughout the United States and 100 international offices. More than 5.2 million children worldwide participate in Junior Achievement programs.

Sun staff writer Melody Holmes contributed to this article.

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