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Fifth-graders get dose of adult world


TANEYTOWN -- Buying a house is confusing enough for grown-ups, but fifth-grader Amber Bowman knows enough about the process to explain why it can turn hair gray.

"You have to get the right money to the right people, at the right time. And if you don't, you have to do everything all over again," said Amber, a Taneytown Elementary School Annex student and daughter of Elisa and Cliff Bowman of Keymar.

Gloria Gall teaches the Microplace unit to all fifth-graders at the school. A few other elementary schools in the county also use the curriculum, written by a University of Maryland economics professor.

The children recognize that even though it isn't book work and doesn't fall into just one subject area, they're learning about government, business and law.

"It's not really social studies, but it is, because it's real," said Susan Miller, daughter of Leonard and Joyce Miller of Feeser Road.

Amber, for example, was elected mayor. She also has a full-time job as a furniture distributor. Her major opponent was her employee.

"That was kind of weird," she said of the situation, which also would have been awkward in real life.

Susan and classmate Susan Hemler are members of the school board, and were spending last week deciding what special events to have for the class, such as a June picnic.

One other item they had decided was Gall's "salary," which they set at $3,100 a month.

"We had a meeting, and we used everybody's salary here, and we figured she should get the most," said Susan Hemler, daughter of Betsy and Dave Hemler.

The salaries are fictional ones for class members, each of whom has some occupation such as grocer, department store owner or lawyer.

L The school board felt Gall deserved the highest pay, though.

"She does the hardest work and keeps everybody together. She puts up with teaching Microplace," Susan Hemler said.

Indeed, Gall goes a bit beyond the Microplace curriculum by adding her own special touch that requires a lot of work outside the class.

For the past 14 years, she has had the students put together and sell wooden figures such as lawn ornaments. The figures were sold yesterday at a fair that included a bake sale and activities for the children.

Using a band saw on her sheep farm near Gettysburg, Gall cuts more than 4,000 pieces of wood that the children, a few parents and even a grandparent glue together and paint to produce the ornaments. They include a 14-inch rocking horse, a coat rack that looks like a moose and a Bart Simpson bookend.

Gall puts out the $500 or so for materials and gets reimbursed after the sale.

One thing every student makes is a family album. They go through magazines and catalogs and cut out photos that represent themselves at various ages, as well as their fictional spouses, children and other relatives.

As can be expected, they choose the most attractive models from the catalogs. But Gall makes a point of taking out the lingerie pages, from which the boys invariably chose their spouses.

They still sometimes pick out someone in a skimpy bikini.

"I tell them, 'Would you really put a picture like that in a nice family album? The preacher might come to your house and pick it up, so you wouldn't do that,' " Gall said.

She takes out most of those photos, "so nobody's tempted."

Microplace is used in Prince George's County's gifted-and-talented program, but in Carroll, the whole class participates.

How does the slowest student in the class keep up with the tough issues of economics and law?

"You walk around and spend a little more time with him," Gall said. "He knows where to look in catalogs for prices now. They learn about supply and demand -- that it's silly to make things if people won't buy them."

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