Eldorado students rehearse real life

Fifth-graders put civic, financial lessons to use

Young AmeriTowne Mayor and Eldorado Elementary School fifth-grader Nick Perri examines some documents while his classmate and Judge Cassidy Palmer listens to a case Oct. 10 in Lakewood. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
Young AmeriTowne is in its 22nd year of operation and welcomes in close to 250 Colorado schools a year to participate in hands-on lessons on how "real life" works in an average American town. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
Eldorado fifth-grader Brett Masten advertises for new business outside of the print shop he was assigned to work in Oct.10 at Young AmeriTowne in Lakewood as classmates mill around working their respective jobs and taking care of errands while on break. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
The Snack Shop is a popular gathering place in Young AmeriTowne and Eldorado students flocked there during their respective breaks on Oct. 10. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
One of the things students learn at Young AmeriTowne is how finances work.They each cash their checks at the bank and owners and shop managers have to work with ordering, payroll and balancing budgets. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
Young AmeriTowne features many businesses one would find in any average American town including a medical center, which Eldorado students had to pay co-pays at in order to be seen by the on-hand medical staff. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
Eldorado students, like these two at the market, had to apply for jobs and go through interviews before arriving at Young AmeriTowne where they put many of the lessons they learned over the previous eight weeks to work. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
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Eldorado Elementary School students from Highlands Ranch had the opportunity this past week to put some of their studies to practical use.

Over the past eight weeks, fifth-graders at the school have been learning about saving, investing and budgeting money, as well as what goes into the costs of running a business, how businesses interact with one another and supply and demand.

In other words, just what is that real world really like?

A trip to Young AmeriTowne in Lakewood Oct. 10 gave the students a pretty fun glimpse into that world as students spent the day playing the roles of bankers, grocery clerks, postal carriers and media representatives and served their fellow students as policemen and medical doctors. The town even elected two of its own to serve as the mayor and judge of Young AmeriTowne.

As mayor, Nick Perri got to fill out a business license; fill in for the judge, Cassidy Palmer, when she was on break; design a website for the town; and support local business while he was on break. But first he had to be elected by his peers.

“I think my friends and the whole fifth grade just liked my speech,” Perri said about being elected. “I talked about how I was good with computers and how I had experience in being a leader. I’ve been a student representative a lot and captain of teams several times in football, baseball and soccer.”

Perri and Palmer both got a heavy taste for civic duty in their roles, as Palmer collected $2 fines for rule breakers who were running, screaming, chewing gum or breaking other town rules. Others got to the heart of the financial education that Young Americans — the organization behind Young AmeriTowne — is all about.

“It is a full economy, there really is a lot going on,” said Katie Payer, vice president of communications for Young Americans. “Each shop has a manager and an accountant, and just like in the real world, those positions are paid a little more than the worker bees. Everyone gets one paycheck and they get two breaks, so they have to learn to spread out that paycheck over the two breaks.”

The students will deposit their paychecks at the bank, cashing part of the checks and depositing the rest into their accounts. They will then use that money at the various shops around town. Some places only accept cash, while others require a debit card purchase or the students to write a check, teaching them how to track spending, and at the same time, how to pay for things in different fashions. If they have leftover money, students are encouraged to donate it, learning philanthropy as well.

While working, students have to pay for print advertising, create radio or television commercials and manage payroll if they are in a management position. And before they get their job assignments, students also have to go through an interview process.

“My interview was very scary, because I was with my teacher’s husband,” said Brett Masten, an employee of the sign and print shop. “My number one choice was graphic artist, but I got the second best thing.”

Masten, who was busy working on advertising when he was interviewed, said he learned that there’s a lot of politics involved with making money and that he didn’t realize how much money was really used in everyday society before his experience.

“I went as a fifth-grader, so it’s neat to come back and do it again,” said Eldorado teacher Lindsey Hahn. “They learn what real life is like, that you can only spend as much as you make and that you have to make sure you balance everything and have budgets. As well, they learn what it means to have a job and work hard.”

Young AmeriTowne is in its 22nd year, and its curriculum is used by close to 250 Colorado elementary schools per year. For more information on Young AmeriTowne and Young Americans, please visit www.yacenter.org.