BizTown allows students to sample financial reality
No matter what the state of the economy, financial literacy is an important skill to have --from budgeting your incoming money to seeking employment and balancing a checkbook.
A Westside Elementary School program strives to teach students in 4th and 5th grade about business and economics.
BizTown, a volunteer-run Junior Achievement (JA) capstone program, consists of 19 lessons that culminate in a field trip to Maplewood, Minn., to run a "town."
Westside Principal Rita Humbert brought the idea of the program with her from her previous school when she was hired in River Falls two years ago.
"BizTown is a JA capstone program that allows students to go somewhere and live out what they are taught," Humbert said.
According to the JA website, JA strives "...to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy."
To become part of the program students have to be in either 4th or 5th grade.
Students need to fill out an application with a parent and teacher signature and show the ability to take on the extra work and be able to miss an entire day of school without falling behind.
With last year's BizTown students giving the program positive reviews, this year's applicant numbers were much higher.
"Last year we had just enough students -- this year we had well over 30 students apply," Humbert said.
After completing prep work that started in February, 30 students will travel to BizTown headquarters April 30.
Since it takes 150 students to run BizTown, Westside students will be partnered with three other schools: Red Pine School, Woodland School and Shannon Park School.
Each school will run certain parts of the town --Westside will be in charge of the bank, café, international shop and the sign shop.
Before heading to BizTown students spend weeks learning about the basics of running a town.
"Students learn the interviewing process: from interviewing skills to applying for a job. They learn that spelling, handwriting and accuracy are important," said Humbert.
In the past weeks students have been applying for jobs to do on their field trip. Classified ads were given to the students describing job openings.
Students are then coached on interview skills, through mock interviews with staff.
"It's a really important skill to have," said Humbert.
Students also learn about handling a checkbook, receiving an income, buying items and paying taxes.
"The checkbook teaches them the fundamentals of subtracting it out," Humbert said.
She tells them the story of someone buying a Happy Meal at McDonalds and having the check bounce. What was a $3 meal turns into a $28 meal, when the bank charges $25 for the bounced check.
Students learn more than how to make and spend money. They learn how they play a role in their environment.
Students get the feel of supply-and-demand principles, as well as how a business starts and works.
"It makes them much more aware of economics as a whole -- how towns do business," Humbert said.
"We talk about wants vs. needs in an economy."
Humbert's hope for the BizTown students is that they take what they have learned and apply it to the communities they will be part of in the future.
She wants the students to have a "...sense of their civic responsibility so they can be an active member of their community."
In the future, Humbert would like to expand the program and do it as a whole class, with teacher volunteers.
To learn more about JA BizTown visit www.jaum.org
Read more about BizTown in the April 5 print edition of the Journal.