School kids experience days of real-world play

A weeklong camp teaches children about money, jobs and adult life


News from around the Baltimore region

August 13, 2005|By Danny Jacobs | Danny Jacobs,SUN STAFF

Police officers Lauren Phillips and Marcus Milford arrived to intervene in a dispute between two downtown merchants.

A boutique owner accused an employee of a nearby design studio of loitering in front of the boutique and driving away business.

With the officers looking on -- and reminding them of the fine for loitering -- the studio owner chastised her employee and assured the boutique owner it wouldn't happen again.

"Case closed," Officer Phillips said with a smile.

A typical day in the city -- except that the police and the citizens were all kids. And the city isn't what it seems either.

Exchange City, a faux urban setting created by Junior Achievement at its office in Owings Mills, attracted about 100 children age 10 to 14 at the Junior Achievement Exchange City Summer Camp. The one-week program, which ended yesterday, teaches campers how a city operates, as well as how to manage a business and a personal checkbook.

The program also emphasizes philanthropy.

"It introduces people to giving back to the community," said Brian Hagan, director of the camp. "It's part of what a city does."

Campers donate Exchange City money that Junior Achievement matches in real money. The campers vote on an organization to support, and they present a check to their charity of choice. In three previous camp sessions, JA gave $100 each to Make-A-Wish Foundation, the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross.

On Wednesday, campers -- half of whom were from Baltimore YMCAs -- sat in the "grass," the green carpet at the center of Exchange City. After Hagan gave instructions on writing a check and balancing a checkbook, he asked campers to come up a list of charities. Fifteen suggestions quickly filled a dry-erase board.

The campers then went back to their stores. One day earlier, counselors tried to place campers at businesses according to campers' preferences, though the youngsters still had to interview for their jobs.

Each of the city's 14 establishments -- including a business magazine, a law firm, an advertising agency and a post office -- receives a loan from the city's bank to start their business. By selling goods and forming partnerships, campers work to repay the loan -- at 10 percent interest -- by the time the city closes.

Each citizen receives four paychecks of $7 ($6.90 after taxes).

At Playa Sports Shop (motto: "When you see what's in this shop, your mouth will drop") Charles Dehn, 10, counts baseball cards in groups of 20 and places them in a paper bag, ready for sale at $4 per bag. Charles, a fifth-grader at Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, warmed to the challenge of creating his own business.

"You know how parents come home from work and say, `I had a long day of work'? Now you know how it feels," he said.

As activity in Exchange City picked up, a radio station announcer read the list of laws voted on by campers. Among them: no foul language and keep stores clean. Failure to obey laws is punishable by a ticket and a fine.

Some scofflaws landed before Judge Alexa Watson, who banged her gavel to close a camper's case against a counselor. Alexa, a fifth-grader at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, ordered the counselor to pay $1.50 to the camper and 50 cents in court fees.

"It's fun but kind of stressful," the 9-year-old said of being a judge. "I have to sign a lot of forms."

As the day drew to a close, the campers gathered on the grass. A member of the law firm announced that the charity chosen is the YMCA, drawing applause from campers.

Before the announcement, bank teller Diamonte Robertson, 10, sat in the Exchange City Bank, doodling after a day of helping people deposit paychecks.

"It's fun to be on the computer, and then you help people," he said.

Diamonte, a fourth-grader at Furman L. Templeton Elementary, gave the camp high marks.

"I'm having a good time. I want to come back."

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