INDIANAPOLIS — Coy Walden spent his first hours as mayor filling out paperwork and greeting those who passed by his office. His bright and charming smile was fit for any young politician.
With a town treasurer, attorney and marshals bustling past his desk, he admitted his first morning in office was a little stressful.
The 11-year-old was elected last week by his classmates to serve as their leader during a field trip that Maxwell Intermediate Center fifth-graders take each year to the Eugene Glick Junior Achievement Center in Indianapolis.
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This week, two groups of Maxwell students visited the center: one on Tuesday and one on Thursday. During the visits to the center’s BizTown, they got a glimpse at adulthood and financial planning.
Students who visit BizTown are assigned a job and list of duties to complete as part of the mini economy. They receive paychecks and learn how to manage their money.
As Coy worked his way through a checklist of responsibilities Thursday morning, papers, rent checks and tax forms from various business owners started to pile up on his desk. He was doing his best to keep things organized: Each addition was filed in its proper stack, where it would sit until it was needed.
“There is a method to this madness,” he said.
During the day, students work and receive two paychecks. They deposit a portion of the checks into savings, and part is cashed for spending. They make purchases, pay rent and cough up money for fines when they break safety rules.
The goal by the end of the day is to have a positive fund balance and to walk away with bragging rights. One boy, one girl and one business team are honored with special awards for being the best in BizTown.
For the kids, it is a fun day of learning outside a traditional classroom. For teachers, it is an opportunity to observe as students take classroom lessons and apply them in real-world simulations, Maxwell teacher Marti Dudley said.
“They see why it’s important to know how to add and subtract and do all of these other things we teach them,” Dudley said. “And at this age, it’s important for them to make that connection, that what they learn in school will be applied in real life.”
Junior Achievement is a worldwide organization dedicated to teaching kids about entrepreneurship, philanthropy and financial literacy, said Tegan Gavin, a staffer with the Junior Achievement Center. The goal is to teach children financial responsibility and instill lessons they’ll carry into adulthood.
Junior Achievement chapters exist across the country, and groups of volunteers, who are often local business owners, visit schools to teach financial lessons to students.
Centers like the one in Indianapolis are rare, Gavin said, and few simulation areas like BizTown exist.
More than 17,000 Indiana students each year visit the center on the north side of Indianapolis to participate in BizTown.
Junior Achievement has been worked into the fifth-grade curriculum at Maxwell, Dudley said. Through special lessons leading up to the BizTown visit, students learn economic and financial terminology; they fill out résumés and apply for the jobs they’ll hold in BizTown; and they learn what it’s like to run a business.
Inside town hall, Coy settled in nicely as mayor.
He was elected after going through an entire campaign process, including making posters, giving speeches and providing his supporters with voter registration forms.
Since he’s a new student at Maxwell, Coy said he was surprised but very excited when his classmates chose him to lead their fictional community.
Once they arrived in BizTown and settled in, Coy took his oath of office, promising to do the best he could while being their leader that afternoon.
Around the corner, Ella Redman, 10, worked as a teller at BizTown’s branch of the Huntington Bank. She waited anxiously for a group of townspeople to come rushing in to cash or deposit their paychecks, just as her older brother did when he was a fifth-grader at Maxwell.
BizTown is a field trip students look forward to for most of the year, sometimes longer, Dudley said.
And it’s evident in their responses.
“The smiles are the greatest part of today,” she said.