GREENFIELD — Johnny Goray walked nonchalantly from one edge of BizTown to the other, one eye on his clipboard and the other eye on the citizens darting past. Anyone caught running would be issued a ticket by the 11-year-old cop – no questions asked.
As town marshal of the simulated society, it was the fifth-grade student’s job Wednesday morning to keep things running smoothly by enforcing the laws of BizTown.
Johnny, a student at Maxwell Intermediate School, was one of 180 local fifth-graders this week to visit BizTown, a program of the Gene B. Glick Junior Achievement Education Center in Indianapolis.
BizTown combines in-class learning with hands-on experience in a fully interactive, simulated town where young students become citizens and earn their keep.
Prior to the field trip, students filled out job applications in hopes of convincing their teachers of the position they thought they’d be best suited to hold.
As it turned out, most everyone wanted to be the marshal or the mayor.
Johnny, sporting a blue police hat, was relishing his new responsibilities Wednesday in one of the town’s most coveted positions.
“I like being a police officer,” he said. “I’ve caught a lot of people.”
The town is comprised of businesses, the city hall, a restaurant and newspaper office, with students filling roles at each to keep them running.
The business facades are a nod to BizTown sponsors and bear familiar names, including PNC Bank, Lilly and Radio Disney.
The job descriptions differ, but the goals are the same in each position. The participants are taught to manage their money, deal with customers and fellow employees and find their place in the BizTown economy.
As the DJ for Radio Disney, Haley Cowart’s main responsibility was to keep the soundtrack of BizTown pumping throughout the day.
“I can’t let it be blank and not have any music going,” said Haley, 10. “… I get to listen to music all day.”
Some of Haley’s selections – the “Cupid Shuffle” and “YMCA,” to name a couple – sparked impromptu dance parties in the middle of the BizTown square.
The kids’ enthusiasm tends to bubble over at times, said Sharon Lynam, program coordinator at Junior Achievement.
“The first hour is organized chaos,” she said.
But as soon as students receive their job descriptions, they get to work on their responsibilities for the day. The JA Journal editor and staff, for example, must print a newsletter and peddle it to passersby. The bankers must deposit checks and help other BizTown citizens keep track of their money.
Students receive two $5 paychecks throughout the day. The money can be used to purchase treats and toys, but it must also support the needs of the business.
“Financial literacy is such a big component in this,” said Dawn Watson, BizTown director.
Junior Achievement officials expect students to take away more than just a fun experience. Because BizTown participants are required to interact with customers and other citizens of the town, the hope is the experience will boost their confidence and teamworking abilities.
In the luckiest of cases, BizTown might also introduce a potential career path.
That was the case for Autumn Foster, who declared while working in the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital Wednesday that she wants to be a physical therapist one day.
Throughout the day, Autumn and her classmates measured hospital visitors’ heart rates, took their temperatures and tested their eyesight. After filling out a health assessment, they finished the checkup by delivering the patients their results and handing them a sticker on their way out the door.
Autumn, 11, said she’d always wanted to work in medical field, and Wednesday solidified her plans.
“We get to use real equipment, so we get the exact experience,” she said.
Students campaigned to become the mayor, a position that ultimately went to Ben Grimes.
Ben, 11, had his own office in city hall, but he said he was rarely there.
He spent the day passing out certificates to volunteers, writing checks and meeting with business owners.
“It’s kind of realistic, except for the fact that there are adults going around guiding us,” he said.
While Ben wanted to be mayor of BizTown, it wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped.
“It’s very stressful,” he said. “I’m running back and forth from all the businesses.”
Then, remembering Johnny and that clipboard of tickets, he added: “Well, not running – I have to speed walk.”