Sixth graders find business ownership challenging

By Carol Bousquet/Community Contributor
April 17, 2009
Kennebunk Post

They took out loans, scratched their heads, and changed their business strategy all in a few short hours. It wasn’t corporate America but Middle School of the Kennebunks sixth graders who got a chance to run a mini-city for a day. The bottom line? They had a lot of fun but a few headaches too.

After weeks of civics and economics lessons in school the students put them into practice Thursday at Exchange City, a mock city complete with bank, shops and city hall. The children not only took out loans and had to pay them back, but they had a payroll with employees, and shopped to keep the economy rolling.

Nature Shop owner Allison Morgan took out a bank loan for $159.70. Two hours later she found her income wasn’t going to pay the bills. “It’s a lot of stress right now,” Morgan said. What to do? Make more of what her customers wanted. “We’re making more sand bottles. They are our big sellers.”

Supply and demand came into play often. The Cody Sports and Recreation Store ran out of goods, so the students put a putting green on the town green to generate more income. Other stores had to lower prices to move merchandise.

City hall had its own financial worries. Fines for walking on the grass weren’t being paid promptly. Mayor David Behr/ens told his police officers to go collect. He got good news. “Fine payments are coming in,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

“They’re applying what they have learned,” said Middle School of the Kennebunks teacher Tom Taylor. He commended the Multi-Service Center, one of the first student-run shops to repay its loan. “They paid off their loan, they’re making a profit. They rose to the occasion.”

This is the second year The Education Foundation of the Kennebunks, a non-profit group that provides students with innovative learning opportunities, has funded the trip to Exchange City.

Pat Garland, Exchange City Program Director, said, “There is no way to fail. You are a success just by working hard and doing a good job!”

That’s the grand part about it. No government bailout required and some good lessons learned. Taylor will tackle what went right and wrong with the kids back in the classroom. He will add a budget and savings component as well.

Morgan ended her day just happy to be on the way to the bank. Her income was picking up and she was making a payment on her loan.