BizTown: Part 2

Where I Went:
Previously, I trained to be a parent volunteer for BizTown. This 5th grade field trip lets students run a mock community, teaching them about personal finance, local economy, and keeping a job. You can read about my training day in Part 1 of this series.
I served as a volunteer for Mrs. B’s 5th grade class in a local Title 1 school, where 90% of the students live in apartments, over 60% qualify for a free or reduced lunch, and a very small percentage live in a nearby homeless shelter. 
I mentioned to my friend, Laura, about Mrs. B’s dilemma with parent recruitment. Right away Laura mentioned that she is “BizTown trained” and would love to help. Perfect! Volunteering is way more fun with a friend.
Laura & I in the BZTV interview chairs
The Job:
Laura and I drove through rush-hour traffic to BizTown on the east side of Portland. Entering the building, we signed in and learned our assignments. I would supervise the UPS delivery team and store while Laura watched over the news crew at BZTV. We used the time before the kids arrived to get acquainted with our volunteer manuals. The detailed instructions give volunteers scripts explaining exactly what to do and say. 
Nervousness set in as I read the rules of the UPS facilitator. My college degree and career background are in education. I’ve taught elementary school intermittently since the early 90’s and spent 6 years as a church youth minister. Managing 5th graders does not intimidate me. Working retail, however, terrifies me. Even simulated retail.
The students piled off the busses and into the building at 9:30. They immediately sat down on the carpet waiting to hear the day’s instructions. Each student came with a specific job assignment and a given salary. Their paychecks could only be deposited at the bank on a scheduled break. During break time, kids could purchase items at retail outlets, eat their lunches packed from home, or use their Biz Bucks to buy popcorn or a Coke at the Cafe. 
(Yes, I said “Coke”. As in soda. As in “lets give one hundred kids 10 ounces of pure sugar to get them through their day. Oh, and we’ll add some caffeine!” I’m not sure whose bright idea that was.)
Mmmmm. Popcorn and Coke!
Each student job has a corresponding simulation manual. Similar to the one written for the volunteers, lists are written describing each employee’s responsibilities for the day. If a student had a question about duties, the volunteer facilitator directs him/her to the manual.
“BizTown is open for business!” Curtis, the Junior Achievement staff member, announced.
Kids scrambled off the carpet and dispersed to respective job sites. UPS had 6 employees that day – all boys. 
I prepared myself. I could handle an all male, all 10 year-old staff, right? I’m an education major.
“Okay, guys, c’mon! Sit in a circle,” I quickly instructed my team before they had a chance to wander. We had 20 minutes for a staff meeting before our work day began.
“Who’s excited to be here?” I said with a cheesy smile in my happiest, funnest, most energetic teacher-type voice. I sounded like a tour guide at Disneyland.
Shouts and woot-woots from the boys.
“What is the main goal for our team today?” I read word for word from the manual.
“Teamwork, good customer service, getting along,” were the responses. 
“And paying off our loan!” one kid added. 
The kids introduced themselves and told me their jobs. Our team make up included the CEO, the CFO, 2 delivery agents and 2 stock managers. 
The UPS team. “What can Brown do for you?”
Our CFO. Seriously chained to the desk all day.
He needed an admin.
After our 20 minute meeting, the national anthem played and the work day began. The CEO hustled to turn in loan paperwork at the bank, the delivery men took buckets of supplies to local businesses, and the stock boys managed inventory as customers bought items from the store. The CFO’s job required sitting at his desk all day taking care of accounts payables and accounts receivables.
My UPS team was energized. “This is easy!” one delivery agent exclaimed in between deliveries.
“Did you give the customer payment to the CFO?” I inquired.
“Uhhh, what payment?”
“Read your manual,” I prompted.
I said that a lot in the first hour.
“Where do these boxes go?”
“Read your manual.”
“I’m done with this. Now what do I do?”
“Read your manual.”
“I can’t find the box that says, ‘The following items are paper forms’”
“Read your ma-”
“Wait,” I said to the stock manager. “Bring me your instructions. What do they say?”
He stuttered through the sentence. “ ‘The fol -follow-ing – following items are pa-paper forms.’ What does that mean?”
I quickly discovered that though the kids were told to refer to their simulation manuals, not all kids could read their simulation manuals. I bet some of those kids don’t even know what “simulation” means.
Even though the BizTown trainers asked parents to let the kids handle everything, I made the decision to step in to help my team understand what the responsibilities were.
The line at the bank. Just like real life.
The first set of break rotations started and the kids took turns depositing paychecks and eating lunch. When my own lunch break finished, I returned to chaos at UPS. The boys so hard at work in the morning now disagreed about who was supposed to do what. Bins of inventory were flipped over. The CFO paid the bills, but had a stack of checks in his inbox that hadn’t been deposited. This business was going downhill fast.
We needed to regroup. Time for our 2nd staff meeting. Reading directly from the manual, I explained that soon they’d be getting their second paychecks. I guided them through filling out a deposit slip, endorsing their checks, and encouraged them to spend their money thoughtfully during the next break rotation.
The UPS “warehouse”. All items needed to be re-stocked.
UPS’s afternoon duties required re-stocking the inventory that would be delivered the next day. Fun trinkets like flashing rings, basketballs, and hacky sacks needed to be counted and distributed. I’ll let you imagine how well they stayed on task.
“I’m tiiiired!”
“How much loooooonger?”
“Working is haaaard.”
And the boys were whining, too.
At 2:00 the kids gathered for a Town Hall meeting in the center of the community to review the day. Passionate discussions were shared about the pros and cons of working in a business. Some groups paid their loans off, while some ended the day in debt. (UPS paid the loan. Whew. We made $1 profit.) 
At the end of the day, the kids went home with a greater appreciation for their working parents, and a taste of what life is like in the “real world”.
Watch out for construction.
After BizTown:
Laura and I left exhausted. We had a great time with the kids, but they took a lot out of us! How did I ever have enough energy to teach on a daily basis? 
On our drive home, we discussed the huge differences between this Title 1 school and the schools our own children attend. In our more affluent neighborhoods, there is so much parent involvement that waiting lists are set up for field trips so that everyone gets a turn. At our kids’ school, parents are just as much a presence in the classrooms as the teachers.
I wonder if my school volunteer time is best spent at my own kids’ elementary, or if I should let the other neighborhood parents take over so I can give more hours to a Title 1 school. Which setting would best teach me the “nature of a servant”?

Related Post:
BizTown: Part 1


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