Apollo students get lesson in real-life stresses

May 3, 2012

By Christina Lords

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By Greg Farrar Maren Larsen (left), who operates Maren’s Craft Store, buys a joke-of-the-day card from Sam Nelson in their third-grade town of Merlinville at Apollo Elementary School.

Amid Lauren Molnar’s third-grade Apollo Elementary School classroom, student Emily Robinson squares her shoulders and raises her hand.

All around her, the room has evolved into the city of Merlinville, which boasts streets of elaborate buildings made of cardboard, representing shops and offices for the goings on of the town.

Robinson, the city’s health officer, has a burning — and legitimate — question.

“Do we get paid before we have to pay our rent?” she asks.

Like the everyday businesses owner, she’s relieved to find out that yes, she does.

Classroom City, a six-week simulation project that allows the children to come up with a business, be elected to public office and learn about real-life scenarios, enables students to learn about government and citizenship in a hands on, practical way, Molnar said.

Students must maintain a viable balance of profits and expenses from their business. Other classrooms will be able to visit Merlinville during the project to help stimulate its economy.

“This is based on a real-life simulation” she said. “They have to learn how to run a business and what it’s like to be an adult and how stressful it is.”

Merlinville has a police chief who can hand out fines and violations if a business has been vandalized, and the water department controls when students can get a drink or go to the bathroom. The town has a city council and newspaper reporters, and each student creates products to be sold during market days.

The students need to make money to help pay for real-life necessities, like business licenses and insurance.

“They came up with the ideas for their businesses by themselves,” Molnar said. “They have to think about who they’re selling to, who their audience is.”

Sam Nelson, owner of Sam’s Barrel of Fun shop, has several products for sale, including a rentable plastic duck, joke-of-the-day cards and Sam’s Wacky Tunes mixed CD, featuring bands such as Katrina and the Waves, Bowling for Soup, The Beach Boys, and Captain Bogg and Salty.

“They’re just pretty much the best pirate rock band on the planet,” he said. “They had to be on there.”

Aoife Buckley, the 8-year-old mayor of Merlinville, said she’s learning about how to make decisions that will benefit the town and not to play favorites among her friends.

“We all had to write a campaign speech,” she said. “I promised the city I would keep it safe and make fair decisions.”

She said she thought she had what it takes to be a good leader within the community.

“I get to cut the city’s ribbon, and I get to have the biggest salary,” she said. “I really do think it’s one of the best roles in the city that there is.”

Vice Mayor Allyson Mangus, owner of Puzzling Puzzles, a business dedicated to providing booklets to entertain and stretch the mind, said she’s been busy trying to determine what the best price for her product might be.

“Right now, my booklets are $5. But if no one buys them, I may have to drop the price,” she said.

Molnar said each student is graded on lessons based in real-life occurrences, such as keeping accurate records of purchases at their businesses and maintaining a checkbook.

“They’ve really put a lot of thought and time into this,” she said. “You can see that they really do take themselves seriously.”

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