How can a Bank of America office, a CareFirst office, a Toyota Financial Services office and the Baltimore Business Journal fit into a 10,000-square-foot facility?
A program of the nonprofit Junior Achievement of Central Maryland’s Owings Mills headquarters, BizTown grants students the opportunity to learn real-life lessons outside the classroom. It is also an all-too-realistic replica of an American city, and it played the role of classroom for 84 Bais Yaakov School for Girls students on May 22, as they explored, experienced and learned valuable life lessons in financial literacy and awareness.
Anyone who is employed knows that a lot of effort goes into a real-life workday. It’s the same for the “professionals” of BizTown. Prior to Bais Yaakov’s visit, which many of the girls described as the highlight of the school year, the students spent months of class time preparing. The BizTown program involves prep work in social studies, math and English classes.
Tanya Gerstman, sixth-grade teacher at Bais Yaakov and field-trip coordinator, said the BizTown curriculum and field trip introduces students to the importance of “citizenship, community and economics” while “teaching [the girls] responsibility and what the world outside of the classroom is like.”
Many of these sixth-graders, Gerstman explained, will soon be making their own money, usually by babysitting, and will need to know the value of a dollar along with with fiscal
responsibility. The BizTown program challenges students to learn skills that at first may seem irrelevant to sixth-graders but may be very relevant within the next five years. These skills include balancing a checkbook, writing a resume, writing a formal letter/email, filling out a job application and learning job interview skills.
Students are assigned — and some are even elected to — various roles within BizTown’s community. Each store has a CEO who is responsible for a business’ operation and who is assigned workers to manage the day-to-day operation. Students work, receive paychecks and must spend their money at the many stores in BizTown. But there’s a catch: All of the goods and services available to purchase are labeled either “needs” or “wants.” This challenges the girls to differentiate between the two and to act responsibly with their hard-earned BizTown money.
For instance, students had the option of purchasing health insurance. Throughout the day, BizTown staff picked names out of a hat and assigned them fake medical injuries. Students who bought the health
insurance, as in the real world, did not have to pay out-of-pocket medical costs. But students who decided to indulge and spend their money more on “wants” needed to pay their medical expenses.
The prestigious position of mayor was not chosen by teachers, but rather it was elected by the students prior to their visit. Mayor Hadassah Berkowitz, 11, said she liked “feeling in charge.” She said she enjoys public speaking, and that worked in her favor; the mayor of BizTown makes many announcements and speeches throughout the day.
Keri Slemp, BizTown program coordinator, helps facilitate the program for a variety of public and private schools that use its curriculum in the classroom and eventually
utilize BizTown’s impressive facilities.
BizTown hosts nearly 90 schools a year, Slemp said. The goal is “to have children walk away with having learned at least one life lesson.”