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News Maryland Baltimore County Arbutus Lansdowne

Lansdowne sixth-graders get a taste of adulthood at BizTown

While many adults have trouble balancing their checkbooks and managing finances, sixth-graders at Lansdowne Middle School are already experienced in writing checks and running businesses like professionals.

"I know how to write checks to people, how to run a business," said 11-year-old Joann Pilcher.

On March 28, Joann was the mayor of BizTown. She spent the day signing paychecks, passing laws and distributing awards.

Her classmates performed similar activities as business owners, politicians and residents of BizTown — a 10,000-square-foot indoor city in the Owings Mills headquarters of Junior Achievement of Central Maryland.

They were among 100 students who visited the facility last Wednesday and Thursday where they were given the opportunity to apply for jobs, run businesses and balance checkbooks.

The BizTown is one of only 24 in the country. It is among the teaching tools in Junior Achievement's educational programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade "that empower young people to own their economic success," said Kim Fabian, senior vice president of Junior Achievement of Central Maryland.

BizTown is designed to teach financial literacy and work readiness to fifth- and sixth-graders. Each year, Lansdowne Middle works with Junior Achievement to plan and prepare for a trip to the facility.

The students, part of the sixth-grade magnet program, spend the weeks prior to their visit learning about managing money and running a business.

Kerry Lynaugh, the librarian and magnet coordinator at Lansdowne Middle, said the program is a great opportunity for kids to learn smart financial planning at a young age.

"Middle school is not too young to start thinking about what you want to do with your life," Lynaugh said.

"We help them to be prepared, to make good, smart, financial decisions," she said.

There are 14 businesses housed in the town, ranging from Bank of America to University of Phoenix to Northrup Grumman.

Students apply for, and are assigned job titles, prior to their visit. Upon arrival, they spend an entire day working in their business, making sales and providing services to the BizTown community.

"There is a direct correlation between what they're learning (in the classroom) and what they're doing (in BizTown)," Fabian said. "It's a very experiential program."

At the beginning of the day, each business takes out a loan to get started. The goal of the program is for the students to manage their finances well enough to be able to pay the loan off by the end of the day.

"It's pretty amazing for fifth- and sixth-graders to have the ability to come in here and do it," Fabian said.

Lansdowne resident Lori Blockston watched her son, Ryan, take on the role of chief financial officer of University of Phoenix. She was taken aback by the scope of the program and its setting.

"You won't believe it unless you're here to see," said Blockston, who was a chaperon Thursday. "It's run like a real town.

"It gives them a really good idea of how this all works," Blockston said.

She said Ryan learned a lot about adult life, from the basics such as dressing for success at work to the importance of managing and budgeting money.

"They can see it's not as easy as they think it is," Blockston said.

Ryan said the hardest part of his experience was, "staying up with all the bills and checks."

He said he was not prepared for how challenging it would be to handle a company's finances.

"It's basically a rush hour all day," Ryan said.

"That's why they call it the tough life," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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