Students pay rent on desks, learn real-world skills at Coast school

Real World comes to South Hancock Elementary students

Fourth graders learn tasks such as managing money and balancing check books.
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Fourth graders learn tasks such as managing money and balancing check books.

Welcome to the school of hard knocks.

Sure, fourth-grade students at South Hancock Elementary School learn all the essential coursework — math, English, history and science.

But as a backdrop, two teachers, Alec McAlarnen and Haylee Botts, decided to give their students a look into how the real world operates.

They decided to try a program called My Classroom Economy created by investment-management company Vanguard. It gives students a taste everyday life as an adult, complete with real-world choices and consequences.

The students learn financial literacy, or the ability to understand how money works in the world: how someone earns or makes it, how that person manages it, how he/she invests it, and how that person donates it to help others.

When they mismanage their money, it can leave them homeless, or actually, deskless.

At the start and end of the day, the students deposit or withdraw their money from the “bank,” which is a collection of folders in a binder.

The kids learn the value of a dollar. They learn responsibility. They learn organization skills. It’s something they can definitely take with them outside of the classroom.

Alec McAlarnen, fourth-grade teacher

Students learn, many times the hard way, the value of a dollar, McAlarnen said.

“The kids learn about balancing a checkbook. They learn responsibility. They learn organization skills,” he said. “It’s something they can definitely take with them outside of the classroom.”

Real responsibilities

Each student has a job to do. They are police officers, librarians, clerks and a news director. There’s homework and attendance monitors. Just like the real world, students had to write a resumé and find a reference when they applied for a job. And students don’t get paid unless they do their “work.”

When they are paid, there are plenty of temptations. The teachers hold auctions. Students bid on items from a Hershey bar to tea to lunch with the principal, assistant principal or counselor. That’s where the students really learn good — and bad — choices.

Both McAlarnen and Botts carry “money” with them throughout the day. Fines are assessed for disciplinary infractions. Bonuses come when students behave well or do well on a test or quiz. The class police officer has to determine what the penalty is and how much the fine will be. Then they have to be steadfast and give it to the student.

As a result, McAlarnen and Botts said, there are fewer disciplinary issues in the classroom. The students, while performing their job responsibilities, have also helped the teachers.

“My library was a mess before I had the librarian job,” Botts admitted.

McAlarnen too, said his student-clerk has been invaluable to classroom organization.

Another vital life skill the students are learning is personal organization. McAlarnen said there have been several occasions when a student had enough money to pay their rent and keep their desk, but the student forgot or misplaced their paper paycheck or bonuses. There are no passes.

“That’s kind of hard,” he said. “I know they have the money, but it’s like the real world. You need to be organized.”

Popular with parents, faculty

The program, in just its first year, has been a hit with not only the students but also with the faculty and parents, Botts said.

“Our principal, our assistant principal, the Parent Teacher Organization and the parents have all gotten involved. They have contributed to the auctions. The parents are keeping an eye on what their kids are doing,” she said.

It takes a very special teacher to do something like this. It’s a lot to take on. It has decreased disciplinary referrals and it has motivated students to learn.

Rose Jenkins, principal

Like several other faculty members, Principal Rose Jenkins participates in the classroom auctions. Students can bid on having lunch with her. She said another faculty member is auctioning off a Christmas cookie–decorating session.

“It takes a very special teacher to do something like this,” she said of the real-world program. “It’s a lot to take on and it has really motivated students to learn. I’m proud of all my teachers but I’m very proud of Alec and Haylee,” she said.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory