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Lansdowne schools' collaboration teaches value of a dollar

Displaying a green, car-shaped eraser, Lansdowne High School senior Donald Nicholson quizzed a class of fourth-grade students at Lansdowne Elementary School about the eraser's production on March 29.

With occasional hints from Nicholson and their teacher, Leesa Green, the students determined the company needed teams in customer service, quality assurance, design, packaging and other departments just to sell the small piece of rubber.

"They learned that the products they use don't just appear," Green said during a break from the lesson. "It takes a lot of work to get them. It takes a lot of materials."

That lesson in business and finance was similar to ones taught to the kindergarten through fourth-grade classes at the elementary school as part of a pilot program through Junior Achievement.

According to its website, Junior Achievement is a 96-year-old nonprofit organization designed to prepare students from elementary to high school to enter the work force.

One of the organization's programs is JA in a Day, during which business professionals come to a school and teach students about business for five hours, said Lori Kirby, senior manager of education and outreach with the nonprofit.

This year, for the first time, high school students have been tapped to take on the role of the business professionals, Kirby said.

At Lansdowne High, which has had a team place first in the state-wide Personal Finance Challenge the past two years, about a dozen students from the school's Academy of Finance were selected to be one of two Baltimore County high schools to take part.

Kirby noted that the only other schools to participate in the pilot were New Town High and New Town Elementary schools in Owings Mills, which did so on March 30.

Sophomore Zach Richards, of Lansdowne, a two-year veteran of the Academy of Finance, taught a first-grade class the differences between needs and wants last week.

Richards said the lesson allowed the kids to prioritize what they needed to spend money on and to determine what wants they would choose to save for.

Richards volunteered to teach the children because he wanted to know what it felt like to lead a class, he said.

"It gives you job experience of what it's like to be a teacher. And you act as a role model to the kids," Richards said after he had finished teaching the morning session. "I was considering being a gym teacher, but being a first-grade teacher could work, too."

Anjelica Jacobs, a junior from Owings Mills, volunteered to teach kindergarten students so she could put what she learned in a child development class to the test, she said.

"We talked a lot about saving money. That was the main financial thing," Jacobs said. "I think it might have planted a seed because they're too young to really understand it.

"This is a cool program," Jacobs said. "A lot of elementary schoolers should be exposed to this as they grow up because the lessons get more in-depth the higher the grades get."

When Jacobs finished teaching her class, she said the students "attacked me with hugs" and asked her not to leave.

It wasn't just the elementary school's youngest students who appreciated the lesson.

Jordan Oliver, a fourth-grade student, hopes to one day become an NFL running back but would own a gym if he ever owns a business, he said.

The lessons he learned on March 29 taught him that business owners had a lot to consider when starting a business, such as location.

He said he might choose to open his gym in Maryland because it has the natural resources necessary to construct the building.

"I liked the lesson because it showed us what we could do with our money when we get older," he said.

Fourth-grader Lily Bain said the lesson may come in handy when she becomes a veterinarian and opens her veterinary clinic, Healthy Pets.

Lily said she learned that she would need to hire people and purchase wood, gravel and cement to build the business and equipment to examine the animals.

"I liked the lesson today because it taught us how we could use our resources and how we could use money that we get in the future," Lily said. "It was really fun and we got to learn how to do stuff with money."

Mike Martin, coordinator of Lansdowne High's Academy of Finance, said his students performed well and that the elementary school students were engaged, but admitted he had butterflies about the session.

"It's like anything else. You're a little apprehensive at first because you don't know what you're getting into," Martin said.

"Your kids are basically becoming teachers," he said. "They've got to get well-prepared and do all the kinds of things that we all have to do, which means you've got to be on top of your game or these kids will fall apart."

Lansdowne Elementary principal Jane Lichter said that when Junior Achievement approached her about this program, she saw several advantages for her school, and the high school.

"We just wanted to promote the collaboration between the two schools and give the kids of the Academy of Finance a chance to work with our kids," Lichter said. "It was just a way to show our students some good role models of some students who are excelling as they're going into middle and high school."

Lichter said the teachers are evaluating the program and will make modifications to it, if necessary, for future programs , she said.

"A lot of the content that they did actually overlapped what our social studies content already presented," Lichter said. "It's a good start for (the students') financial literacy."

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