Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 12, 2013

WOODLEAF — Emma Crider has been a trash collector, a computer expert, an office assistant and a table washer.
And she’s only 6.
Emma’s done all those jobs this year in Cassie Thompson’s first-grade class at Woodleaf Elementary, and she has earned a salary for each of them. It’s part of how the students are learning about making and managing money.
The first-grade teachers at Woodleaf started the program last year to help meet state social studies standards that say students must understand basic economic concepts, how people earn money and spend it for goods and services, and how supply and demand affects choices families and communities make.
“That’s a very lofty concept for 6-year-olds,” Thompson said. “It’s important, but we wanted to figure out what we were going to do to make it relevant to first-graders.”
So here’s what they came up with: paying the kids.
Students earn “money” for doing their primary job, coming to school and being good citizens. They start each day paid $6, and that amount can rise or fall during the day based on their behavior and whether they do their work.
They can also earn more for doing one of a dozen classroom jobs, including making sure trash cans are emptied, sharpening pencils and handing out materials, or being the “caboose” and ensuring everyone stays in line when the class moves from one place to another.
New students get those jobs each week in Thompson’s class. If they do them well, they get paid on Monday. If not, they can face the real-world consequences of being fired or having their pay docked, teaching them responsibility.
“If the trash collector doesn’t do his job, the whole class has full trash cans,” Thompson said. “So they see that if you don’t do your job, it not only affects yourself, it affects other people, as well.”
Along with plying their trades, the students must pay Thompson “rent” each month which covers their desk space, use of the bathroom and electricity, among other things. And if they forget supplies, they have to sacrifice some of their hard-earned cash to use hers.
Six-year-old Diego Sanchez said he didn’t really think about where money came from before entering Thompson’s class.
“Now I know you have to have a job to get money,” he said. “It teaches us when we get older, we have to have jobs or we won’t have a good life.”
Thompson said making money isn’t the only lesson.
“The best part for them is that by earning the money, they get to spend it,” she said.
Every couple of weeks, the students get to buy something from a “catalog.” Their choices range from stickers and candy to extra computer time and lunch with a friend.
So far, some are better than others at long-range financial planning.
“Some of them will buy a sticker every time because they want to save their money,” Thompson said, “and some will spend on big-ticket items every time.”
Emma takes the long view.
“I like to save up my money so we can actually buy stuff that we need, and we can buy for other people,” she said.
Thompson said all the students got to save up for a Christmas store, which — like everything else the children can buy — was stocked with donated items. They’ll have another big event at the end of the year, a yard sale.
Even after shopping at the Christmas store, Emma had more than $320 in the “wallet” she keeps in her desk. With a little help from Thompson, she counted out the total — made to resemble real money but in different colors — in denominations of 20, 10, 5 and 1.
Thompson said having the students count their money — and count it out when they need to pay for something — also helps teach them a number of math concepts.
But it’s the earning, saving and spending lessons that seem to have caught their imagination.
For example, Emma is considering spending a large part of her small fortune on the biggest-ticket item in the catalog — which no student has yet purchased — a day of switching places with Thompson. The “Teacher for a Day” experience costs $300.
And some young entrepreneurs have figured out even more ways to make money. Diego has worked as a line leader, a caboose, an office assistant and an errand runner. He’s also providing a service to some of the kids who can’t yet tie their shoes. He’ll do it — for a price.