When fifth-graders run a freemarket
Enterprise Village teaches kids about the working world by putting them in charge ina miniaturebusiness sector.
By EMILY NIPPS
Published March 24, 2006
This is what it would look like if fifth-graders ruled the business world for a day.
They would show up in little dress shirts, ties and dresses, and place their hands over their hearts for the morning national anthem by Mariah Carey, played over loudspeakers. They would lure their customers with storefront signs that say, "Publix Special of the Day - Glow Sticks, $1" and "Come on in!!! We can meet your financial needs!!!"
They would form long, single-file lines to make careful deposits at the bank, and no one would roll their eyes, complain or look at their watches. They would love their jobs, whether at a hospital or a McDonald's, and they would put out newspapers with only happy news about the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup two years ago and fun personal experiences.
"Have you ever had the experience of having your drawing on the Walk-A-Thon T-shirt?" Courtney Smithgall wrote in a recent daily edition. "Well, I have and I'm going to tell you how I felt ...''
At the Bill Poe Family Junior Achievement Center on N 22nd Avenue, life is good. Free enterprise is fun. And for four hours each weekday, a few dozen young capitalists get to unleash their six weeks of training onto a miniature version of the Tampa Bay area business sector.
Former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe donated $1.5-million to the $7-million center, which is intended to teach the county's 18,000 fifth-graders how the working world operates. The building opened its doors this year, and is now booked every day until the end of the school year.
Inside the 15,000-square-foot center is a row of shops, designed by local companies to look like the real thing. A little University Community Hospital clinic has little staffers in lab coats and diagrams of medical conditions. Kids can walk in to get weighed, measured and tested for vision problems.
A mini Publix is stocked with cereal and paper towels and trash bags, and a portrait of founder George W. Jenkins hangs on the wall. Raymond James is filled with cherry wood executive furniture, and the little financial advisers stand around in ties and suits. The McDonald's sells chicken nuggets, cookies and drinks that kids can buy during their breaks.
A little mayor and supervisor of elections run the chamber of commerce, where kids can take opinion polls on real voting machines, and Verizon and TECO collect the other businesses' fees for their services.
Each business gets a phone, which comes in handy when the employees want to call in song requests to Mix 100.7, where two disc jockeys play digital music and read advertisements in between. And when kids want some entertainment on their breaks, they can visit Busch Gardens, which has a simulated ride and a game for the price of admission.
But it's not just a playground where the students play dress-up for a day. They also must learn how to pay off their business loans, write checks and balance the books, recycle trash and donate to United Way. Before visiting Enterprise Village, fifth-graders must fill out job applications. Some teachers actually hold interviews, handshakes and all, to help them match each child to a job suited to his or her strengths.
An hour before Lowry Elementary fifth-graders showed up to put their skills to use, 30 parent chaperones and teacher volunteers waited in their Village posts, awaiting their staffers so they could begin running their shops.
"I expect pandemonium," said Milford Carson, who was overseeing the Busch Gardens store. Carson's son Cameron would be working across the street selling merchandise at the Lightning store.
But when the kids shuffled in, got their instructions and broke off to start their day, Enterprise Village seemed surprisingly orderly. McDonald's employee Trey White began spraying and wiping down tables. Savings officer Angela Costa started writing a radio advertisement for Bank of America. "Saving money is very important ..." the ad began.
Inside the radio station, business manager Max Masse held a meeting with his DJs, Esco Wright and Melissa Sadlik.
"The DJs have been doing good," Max said. "But when I look in the DJ booth, I don't see any of the requested songs being played. There were, like, four sitting in there."
"We did three already," Melissa said. The problem, they were finding, was that it was hard to squeeze in music around all of the ads the other businesses were buying.
And over at Publix, a chamber of commerce representative came by and offered a "Business Member" sign that the managers displayed proudly at the front of the store. Then they found out they had to pay $2 in dues and wanted to know if they could give back the sign. They couldn't.
Leo Ledesma was settling into his job selling pretend stock certificates for Raymond James, which wasn't so bad for a financial company. "At first, I thought Raymond James had to do with sports," he said. "Then I learned it was mostly for retirement. And that's good, because I like old people."
The day seemed to zip by as the 10- and 11-year-olds dashed from shop to shop, picking up supplies from a distribution center, hawking merchandise, running their paychecks to the bank and taking charge of their employees.
"The kids you don't think are very focused (in class) all of a sudden become very focused," Lowry teacher Marcie Ostiguy said.
As 1 p.m. approached, the children were instructed to close down their businesses and prepare to attend a town meeting. Mayor Kristin Ladia commended her peers for running their businesses so smoothly.
"Ideas that we learned in school came alive today," she said, and she rewarded the Lightning shop employees with real Outback meal certificates for running the best and most profitable store.
Field trips to museums or parks simply aren't enough for kids today, teacher Sue Harmon said, and the day at Enterprise Village was a much cooler way of teaching economics than anything she could have done in the classroom.
"When my own kids were in sixth grade, they would go to Nature's Classroom, and they still talk about that experience," Harmon said. "It's neat to see something like this for fifth-graders today. This is an experience they're going to talk about for the rest of their lives."
Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified March 24, 2006, 11:17:33]
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