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BizTown: Where students run the show

Alyssa Pressler
  • BizTown allows 6th-graders the opportunity to act like adults for a day.
  • Students apply for jobs, get paychecks and shop during their time at BizTown.

Junior Achievement's BizTown offers middle-schoolers a glimpse of the possibilities — and responsibilities — that await them in the not-too-distant future.

Mia LaPorte, 11, does Mayor duties from City Hall while attending JA BizTown, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 John A. Pavoncello photo

Junior Achievement is a worldwide organization that offers programs for students to learn about work readiness, financial literacy, STEM and entrepreneurship, according to its website. The organization holds STEM summits, symposiums and also offers BizTown for middle school students.

The regional Junior Achievement office has a BizTown center in York City. Students from all over York, Lancaster and Adams counties and beyond travel to the BizTown center to gain job experience through the hands-on event.

There are 90 BizTown days each year that service approximately 7,800 students in the area, according to BizTown director Kim McGowan. On Friday, sixth-graders from Eastern York Middle School attended BizTown.

How it works: Chris Clemens, communications and public relations director for Junior Achievement of South Central Pennsylvania, said the process starts in the classroom. Fifth- and sixth-grade students look through job openings online and choose to apply for three. Each job has different responsibilities and different pay rates.

Students then must interview for the position, Clemens said. Later they're assigned one of the three jobs and are given training packets with information they'll need the day they attend BizTown.

Jobs range from CEO of the town bank to the architect of the construction company. Individual businesses in the town also make money and must balance their business checkbook while paying off their business loan, Clemens said.

"They have to work together as a group to get it all done," she said.

The students are paid twice during their work day. They have to go to the bank, open a savings account and deposit their check. They are given BizTown debit cards they can use to purchase goods made by the shops in BizTown or food on their lunch break. They also get two shopping breaks throughout their work day.

Every job in the town is held by a middle school student, including elected positions such as the mayor of the town and the deputy mayor, who are elected to their positions as part of the preparation process at their school, which is different for each one, Clemens said. They are sworn in when they first get to BizTown and even Skype with BizTown mayors in other states.

Eleven-year-old Mia LaPorte said she had to give a speech and interview for the position as mayor of BizTown. She was worried about the responsibilities the position would entail but was surprised at how fun it was. She spent her day observing the town and talking with business owners.

"You have so much responsibility," Mia said. "I knew we'd have some responsibilities, but not this much."

Being adults: This is a common realization among students who participate in BizTown, Clemens said. The students act like real adults for a day, with bills to pay, work to accomplish and problems they need to solve. While that idea can be exciting at first, Clemens said students often are shocked at how tired they are at the end of the day.

"It's funny. You'll talk to them as they're leaving, and they'll say 'I understand why Mom and Dad are tired coming home now,'" she said.

It's easy to see why they would be tired. At the BizNet News, students write articles to contribute to an online blog, complete with advertisements other businesses in the simulation pay for. At BizTee, students spend the day screen-printing T-shirts and selling them to their classmates.

Meanwhile, at the Wellness Center, students work to solve a mystery, which involves taking hair samples and DNA samples before running scientific tests to catch a thief. At the town's Realty Office, leasing agents take electric and rent payments from other stores in BizTown while running science experiments to learn about energy efficiency.

A constriction crew works hard to build a new park bench, taking breaks to be interviewed about their work by the BizTown TV Station, which also takes advertisements. A distribution center makes sure all businesses have the supplies they need, and a restaurant run by students sells snacks and water.

Hard work: By the end of the day, students have a real example of what any of these jobs might require in real life. This was one of the things 12-year-old Jade Zutell enjoyed most about her experience with BizTown. Jade spent her day working in the advertising department of BizNet News. This required collecting all the advertisements and entering them into the computer, all while checking the spelling and information to be sure it was right.

Eastern York Middle School student Jade Zutelo, 12, types up a news article in the JA BizTown newspaper office, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 John A. Pavoncello photo

Jade quickly realized that being an adult isn't what she expected.

"It's more difficult than kids expect," she said. "Kids think its fun, but you just cash checks and go to work like a normal person."

Nevertheless, she said she would explore a career in advertising thanks to her day at BizTown. She thought the job was fun, and practicing at BizTown gave her an idea of what to look at.

Many of the 90 students who participated said they felt important contributing to running BizTown, and this is what Eastern York Middle School teacher Margaret Beaver hopes they get out of the program. She's been coming to BizTown with her students for at least 10 years.

Eastern York Middle School student Daniel Slater, 11, builds a park bench while "working" for Apex Construction at JA BizTown, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 John A. Pavoncello photo

"No matter what job the child has, they see themselves contributing to the business," Beaver said.