Where I Went:
Mrs. B teaches 5th grade at a Title 1 elementary school, where 90% of the student population live in apartments and 61% receive a free or reduced lunch. Soon, the 5th graders at her school will attend a day at Junior Achievement's BizTown, a mock-community created to teach students basic economics and job responsibilities. Students have careers, receive paychecks, and act as consumers mirroring life in the “real world”. Mrs. B asked if I’d step in as a BizTown volunteer for her class.
In order for a school to participate in BizTown, each class needs to provide its own parent volunteers. Many of Mrs. B’s kids at the Title 1 school come from single, working parent homes where taking a day off for a field trip would be a hardship. Taking another day off for training would be next to impossible.
When I agreed to volunteer for Mrs. B, she let me know of the requirement to attend a BizTown training. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I took a seat at one of the round tables in the training room. I glanced at a volunteer manual, paging through sample cost sheets, checkbook registers, and staff break schedules. I started to get nervous. It’s tough enough for me to stay within my own budget. Would I have to help kids balance theirs? This volunteer gig might be more than I bargained for!
After welcoming trainees and giving an overview of BizTown, the trainer asked if any of us had Type A personalities. Nobody knew me, so I didn’t raise my hand. No need to label myself quite yet.
To those of us who stress about perfection she said, “Leave the Type A personality at the door. This day is about the kids. The kids will do their jobs. The kids will balance their checkbooks. If a kid misses a payroll deposit, the kid will deal with the consequences.”
“Your role,” she continued, “is to be a guide and to follow the script.”
She held up a volunteer manual with detailed instructions inside. The facilitator directions look like this:
Awesome. This manual tells me exactly what to ask and say. I will not have to exert much brain power at all.
Students arriving at BizTown for the day have already been assigned their careers. When they unload from the bus and enter the building, they will know which business they’ll work for that day. I will lead a brief staff meeting for my small group so that all understand their delegated roles. Then the kids are on their own running this small community for the next 4 hours.
In BizTown you will find the town hall, retail stores like Fred Meyer, utility departments like Portland General Electric and a UPS to pick up supplies. There is even an Animal Shelter so kids learn how a non-profit business is run. Snacks are purchased in the cafe with the BizTown cash they earn.
Parents are not allowed to facilitate the business in which his/her child has been assigned. In the past, there has been temptation for parents wanting to step in and “help” their children stay on task. I can totally see myself as the hovering parent wanting to make sure my daughter does everything right. I guess its a good thing that my first experience with BizTown is helping other people’s kids.
This is Part 1 of my volunteer experience with BizTown. Part 2 will post after I actually work with the kids. To get an idea what I’m getting myself into, watch these videos from Junior Achievement’s website.
How To Help:
You don’t need to have a 5th grader to volunteer at BizTown. Visit the website’s volunteer page to get more information. I told my BizTown-trained friend that Mrs. B is short on parent volunteers, so she’s offered to come along with me and she'll get her own business to facilitate. Stay tuned to see how it all works out!