After preparing in their humanities classrooms over the course of ten weeks, over eighty Northeast Middle School students spent the day at Junior Achievement’s BizTown participating in an educational simulation of a working community and economy. They practiced new financial literacy skills and gained insight into economic and democratic concepts as they served as employees, consumers, and citizens in their own BizTown community.
All BizTown students had a role to play as newspaper reporters, non-profit directors, construction project managers, CEOs, bank tellers, CFOs, sales managers, designers, ad executives, radio DJ’s and leaders in many other positions. They worked as business teams to advertise, prepare quality products, set prices, and offer efficient service in order to pay off their business loans. Along the way, they encountered challenges that required them to get creative, ask for help, resolve conflict within their team, and rely on one another to be successful.
Problem-solving was a must, particularly when several businesses lost their access to computers because of an electrical problem. “I screamed really loud once,” said sixth grader and newspaper employee Stephanie Puma-Cando. “But then I took deep breaths and thought about how to fix them [the problems].” The solution to the computer crisis? Business teams shared a few working laptop computers in the towns’ square, practicing flexibility and cooperation to ensure they would print paychecks and bills on time.
Other businesses were just plain busy and chaotic. At the café, sixth grader Asma Shafi encountered lines of hungry and impatient customers. When the business ran out of fresh popcorn or juice, Asma practiced her best customer service: “We told everyone what was going on and why it was taking so long.” No one left the cafe unsatisfied.
Gift Store CEO Jakai Self had a frustrating experience any adult CEO would understand: “A lot of people came in interrupting me when I was trying to work.” When asked what he would work on for next time, he said, “My signature.”
As individual employees and consumers, students also gained a new understanding of the importance of personal responsibility as they managed their time and money. Some students worked “overtime” to meet business goals; others took full advantage of their breaks for shopping. Most students found balancing their checkbooks to be a huge challenge, and they realized the value of this skill when their checks bounced.
The day concluded with a town meeting where the mayor announced citizens of the day, voting results, and the total donations collected for the town’s non-profit. The CEO of the Bank congratulated successful businesses. The general consensus was that not one business and not one individual could have been as successful alone.
So what did the students think of this day in the life of an adult? Overwhelmingly they described the experience as a challenging but positive one. “It was hard, fun, and great to work at a job you like,” said sixth grader and newspaper photographer Jenny Chavez. She, like most BizTown students, expressed that being responsible and being a leader isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.