Bargell: High Country goes to town
February 26, 2013
Adults in Summit County, there are big shoes to fill. Fortunately, according to one small town mayor, you’re doing a great job.
For the last several years Summit County sixth-graders have made their way to Denver where they proceed to take over the town. Literally. The trip to Young AmeriTowne (YAT) is a perennial rite of passage for SMS students who participate in the award-winning educational program that gives hands-on experience in economics, business and labor. It’s a soup-to-nuts approach to finance that culminates in a day-long excursion to the in-door replica of a small town where our youngsters experience first-hand what it takes to contribute to a community. All told, they run the 27 businesses that comprise the town. Maybe not a metropolis, but a big endeavor for all involved.
The YAT field trip actually begins several weeks prior to departure, in the classroom, when students embark on a basic economic unit, trying to make sense of everything from the law of supply and demand to personal finance. Before heading out every student must first apply and interview for their YAT job, convincing the interviewing adults why they are right for the position. During the conversations, words like responsible and honest came up often as the kids vied for positions ranging from shop manager to police officer (a job often requested because the uniform was cool). Not everyone got the job they wanted – a harder life lesson, but with amazing resiliency they picked up and moved on.
Each business, including the town’s government, then had to figure out how to function. Collectively, they pulled together their shops, doing everything from completing bank loan applications to insurance forms. Individually, each student painstakingly mastered a deposit slip, writing a check, and gave serious thought on how to avoid an overdraft.
These are weighty concepts for a sixth-grader, some better understood than others. That’s where YAT comes in. Immediately upon entering the facility where the stores surround a perennially grass-covered (OK, turf-covered) town square, the classroom work took on an entirely different reality. The parent volunteers who toured the town were awed by the remarkable detail incorporated into each of the locally sponsored businesses. From the small anchor desk at the 9 News TV Station, to the vault safely situated behind the FirstBank mini-teller windows, the establishments were near perfect replicas of the real businesses, much to the amazement of the newest employees.
When the YAT staff explained how the day would go, I admit I was skeptical about whether this group of 11- and 12-year-olds could pull it off. They had to work, get paid, make their way to the bank and run their business, all the while making sure they did not go into the red, either personally or as a company. They also had to make sure they lived by the rules, established by the judge, who had recently outlawed tomfoolery – all around.
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As the day opened, and the shops at the corner of Penny and Profit streets got to work, employees struggled to fill out their break schedule, and pondered how their newly issued debit card might impact their bank balance. As the day progressed a hum of efficiency enveloped the town. At the snack shop, a missed opportunity to bump the price on their very popular, and tasty, chocolate chip cookies that soon sold out caused staff to take an alternative approach when the limited supply of afternoon frozen treats arrived. Prices shot up almost immediately, allowing the shop to cover expenses, while the consumers gave serious thought to their purchases.
Each store’s work schedule, an impossible maze in the morning, became old hat. It was encouraging to see the students make sense of the abstract concepts, and take pride in the effort it took to ensure the success of their community. Then again, they have some good examples, or so said the YAT Mayor for the day, Julia Whinston. When asked by the local newspaper who she counted as her role models, and why, she replied, “Well, all the adults of Summit County. They are happy.”
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.