Students run the town

Camron Garland (left) and Klarissa Brown, on-air hosts at the JA BizTown Broadcasting Center, prepare to videotape a segment.
(From left) Stocking the shelves at the JA BizTown Café were: (from left) beverage manager Haley Bidwell, CFO Carmen Burks and CEO Stephen Lingerfelt.
Marianne Allman (left) of Junior Achievement swears in Drew Hoffman as mayor of JA BizTown for Oct. 30.
Karly Cunningham (left) sets up her product display at the JA BizTown Nature Shop. Parent volunteer Julie Hawk lends a hand.
Stress balloons were among the products the Wellness Center hawked during London Elementary’s visit to JA BizTown. Working on assembly are: (from left) personal trainer Jake Burns, healthcare manager Brittany Strickler and CEO Michael Johnson.

CEOs earn $9. CFOs earn $8.50. All other employees get $8.

So goes the “salary” schedule at JA BizTown, a warehouse-turned-simulated-community in which fourth- through sixth-graders learn first-hand what it takes to create a business, as well as personally earn and manage money.

On Oct. 29-30, 155 fifth-graders from London Elementary ran BizTown—half one day, half the other day. BizTown is located in a warehouse/office space near I-270 and Roberts Road in the Hilliard area and is the creation of Junior Achievement of Central Ohio, a private organization that teaches students about free enterprise through classroom visits and off-site simulations.

BizTown looks like a small town. There are stores, a bank, a radio station, newspaper, restaurant and town hall. Each business is outfitted with modern office equipment and supplies.

While the money is fake, the products the students create are real. The newspaper office actually produces a newspaper. The radio station broadcasts announce-ments. The sign shop makes signs for each business. The Wellness Center sells stress balloons and sponsors a push-up contest. The bank issues business loans.

“The students have been talking about this all year. They’ve been so excited,” said London fifth-grade teacher Joe Johnson.
The one-day field trip to BizTown is the culmination of a four-week economics curriculum that starts with on-site training for teachers, parents and adult volunteers, then moves into the school’s classrooms. In the month before the field trip, students choose jobs, develop business plans and discuss citizen rights and responsibilities.

Karly Cunningham applied for and got the sales manager position at the Nature Shop. Teacher Rita Buchan conducted the job interview. The most difficult question she asked, Cunningham said, was ‘Who inspires you the most?”

“I said my family, but the most is my dad,” Cunningham said, as she set up a display of sand dollars, rubber ducks, pens, and faux flowers in her sales display.

Not everyone landed the job they wanted. Camron Garland, for instance, wanted to work as a personal trainer. Instead, he got the job of on-air host at the Broadcast Center. He said he wasn’t keen about sitting in front of a video camera, but seemed to be making the most of the challenge.

Drew Hoffman won the election to serve as mayor for Day 2 at BizTown. (Allie Mentzer was mayor on Day 1.) As for why he makes a good mayor, Hoffman said, “I am responsible. All students and teachers can rely on me.” He said he enjoys the people he works with at town hall and only gets a little nervous while making speeches. His job at BizTown: “to make sure everyone is doing their job and not goofing around.”

Hoffman presided over a town square meeting in which he talked about a census, voting issues and charitable causes before introducing the CEO of each business. The CEOs talked about their stores, which they also advertised in the newspaper, on TV, over the radio, and on web pages.

“For each business, the goal for the day is to pay off their loan through the sale of services and products,” explained Junior Achievement’s Jan Bambach. The loan amount is based on a cost sheet each business creates prior to traveling to BizTown. Payroll, supplies, office space rent, and interest on the loan factor into the business plan.

The consumer side of BizTown comes with two “paychecks” per worker, from which taxes are taken. Students learn how to endorse and cash checks and make out deposit slips. They have checking and savings accounts for the day. They can patronize one another’s businesses with their earnings.

It’s all about making the business, work, and consumption process as real as possible, said London fifth-grade teacher Adrienne Crace. In the end, the students aren’t just learning about economics.

“Social studies, math, reading and writing are involved,” she said. “There’s also lots of teamwork and problem-solving.”

This is the first year London’s fifth-graders have taken part in BizTown. The program, which costs $14 to $16 per student, was made possible through a donation from Honda.

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