I had the opportunity recently to be a mentor at the Junior Achievement BizTown. For about a day I watched as 100 entrepreneurs created and ran a “town”. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some came from families rich in financial wealth, others qualified for school lunch programs. Some were taking many of their classes in Spanish or French, others were Hispanic where English was their second language. What the students (the citizens) discovered was the joy of learning how business worked and how one business depended on others. They got along. They had fun. What I learned was that I can learn a lot about life from a group of 5th graders.
For those of you not familiar with BizTown it is a simulation where about 80-120 students run a town and all of the businesses that make the economy run. There are businesses that make and sell interesting things, there are banks that loan money to the businesses and collect interest on the loans, there is a power company that sells utilities, there is a newspaper company and sells advertisements and produces and sells an actual paper, there is a radio station with DJs that sells air time to businesses in the town for commercials, there is a post office (FedEx), a Steak and Shake restaurant where students can buy popcorn and soda, the Peyton Manning Wellness Center where students go for medical checkups and learn how to eat healthy, and a city hall where the mayor and police keep the peace. Each company has a payroll. Each company pays taxes. The employees are paid with checks, they pay income taxes, they cash their checks at the bank where they receive a small amount of cash and deposit the rest into their checking account. They use the checking account to pay for the interesting things sold at the retail stores.
This all happens between 9:30 AM and 2:00 PM. Each day a different group of students enjoy the opportunity at the facility. A group of five JA staff make sure the town “runs” correctly. Adult mentor volunteers assist in each business to answer questions. The student citizens make the decisions, do the legwork, sweat a bit and have a lot of fun.
The day I was there we had students from the International School, Saint Phillip Neri and Saint Anthony. Most of the citizens were in 5th grade. Over the previous few weeks each student had filled out a resume and had interviewed for the job they wanted. Each business had a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) along with 4-6 supporting roles. Each student had a job description so they knew what was expected of them before arriving.
Our citizens came from much different backgrounds. The International School of Indiana is a private school in Indianapolis. According to their website http://www.isind.org/ the yearly tuition is $13,050 per year. Students pick a language track in either Spanish or French and learn most of their coursework in that language. Saint Anthony is an inner city school supported by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The average family income is $14,000 per year. Approximately 90% of the student body is Hispanic and most of the students qualify for free school lunches. Very few of the students pay tuition. What I found fascinating and encouraging was that all of the student/citizens regardless of what school they were from participated as equal members. They all worked hard, they communicated, and the system worked.
I’m sure many of the students learned a lot about business, about teamwork, about leadership and a few life skills like how to balance a checkbook. What I experienced as a mentor was how well the students got along, how well the students were prepared by their teachers for the day’s activities, how well they performed in their roles, how hard they worked, and in many ways how once they understood the rules they policed themselves. I learned that our youth when given the opportunity rise to the occasion.
As a marketer I am often the champion for the voice of the customer. The following are the top 10 reasons for BizTown as recorded in JA BizTown Newspaper by the citizen staff.
1. It is fun.
2. You learn how to be an adult.
3. You learn how to do jobs.
4. You learn how to control money.
5. You learn how to write checks.
6. You learn how to balance a checkbook.
7. You learn how to handle breaks.
8. You learn different jobs.
9. You get to spend money and shop.
….. and the final reason
10. You get two paychecks!
What is the value to this adult volunteer of experiencing entrepreneurial spirit in a group of 5th grade students – Priceless!
If you have an interest please consider making an investment in the future by giving some of your time and/or your financial treasure to support a good cause like JA BizTown. It is worth the effort.
Until next time – All the best!