A new Economic Education program at Legacy Academy Charter School in Elizabeth mirrors the market-based economy, exposing students to a taste of the responsibilities they will face as adults.
Just as with the schoolwide Character Education program that Legacy Academy introduced at the beginning of the school year, the Economic Education program is also in its first year.
In addition to performing their normal classwork, the sixth-graders in Matt Parish's social studies class and Jeff Entner's math class have jobs.
“Jobs are anything from a row captain — they are sort of like the line leaders — to a Twitter liaison who updates the class Twitter page,” Parish said. “I have a class website designer; she updates the website and keeps that going. Our newest position is a “tekkee”; they are the kids who are really good with technology, who can go around and help kids when they are having glitches with their iPads or don't know where to find something.”
In the fall, students were assigned their jobs, but after the Christmas break, each student was allowed to apply for the position that he or she would keep for the remainder of the school year. With the resumes written in English class, the students applied and interviewed for the jobs and were hired according to their skills and abilities.
“They all went through the process of writing a resume and participating in an interview, and they got assigned their job. We thought that was really valuable experience for the kids to have,” Parish said.
Though most jobs are completed in Parish's social studies class, a few students perform their duties as bankers and auditors across the hall in Entner's math class.
Regardless of the job, each student starts with an equal base salary paid in Eco Dollars, but paychecks are adjusted at the end of each month to reflect job and schoolwork performance. Students who consistently do their jobs and turn in homework on time receive incentive bonuses, and those who fail to do their jobs or are routinely late with assignments are docked pay. In February, the students earned net salaries ranging from zero to 300 Eco Dollars.
Students earn interest on the balances deposited in their accounts, are taxed on earnings, and pay monthly expenses similar to the ones paid by their parents, all of which they are required to calculate.
“In math class, they have a ledger just like in a checkbook. They do all their calculations. He (Mr. Entner) will also charge them for their desk just like an apartment. They have to pay rent to sit at their desk. Sometimes we charge them health-care or a locker fee,” Parish said.
The real-world calculations needed to balance a checkbook, calculate interest, and perform basic accounting mirror those in the sixth-grade math curriculum of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with decimals, which was one of the reasons sixth grade was selected for the program.
Math teacher Entner has noticed that his some of his students are more careful when it comes to balancing their checkbooks than they are with their regular homework assignments.
“They are more motivated to add things up on their sheets, because the auditor charges them a fee for an error,” Entner said. “They are more meticulous with their checkbooks, because they are more worried about getting docked than losing a point on their grade.”
The students also have opportunities to experiment with the market economy and enjoy the fruits of their labor. In February, students use their Eco Dollars to bid on luxury items such as the privilege of sitting next to a friend in class, listening to music during a class period, or the most popular item, 10 tickets to eat lunch in the school's conference room.
“We wanted a way for the kids to spend their money, so we brought in an auctioneer, and we auctioned off the selling rights to different class privileges,” Parish said. “They (students) purchased the selling rights, and then we had a separate market day where the kids could buy and sell with each other and have a true, free-market economy. They were buying based on the buying power of the money they had saved up.”
The students are not the only ones who appear to be getting something from the program. Both Parish and Entner are enthusiastic about their involvement and are delighted that that Legacy's board of directors has approved the economic program for next year.
“It's one of the most fun things I've ever done as a teacher,” Entner said. “It's great watching the kids get excited.”