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Building Classroom Community, One Township at a Time

by Kathleen A. Hunter, MS
 | Mar 12, 2013
Spring is just around the corner, and not a minute too soon for those of you still wearing your snow boots. But that doesn’t mean your classroom needs to stay buried in a snowdrift of doldrums.

Creating a classroom township—complete with neighborhoods, businesses, and budgets—will help you welcome springtime with renewed energy. Your students will come away with a true sense of what is required of them to cohabitate and function emotionally, financially, and socially in the real world. Along the way your students will use everyday skills in reading, writing, math, art, and social studies, which for you, the teacher, makes meeting academic needs across the curriculum almost—dare I say—easy?

The snow is melting, so without further a-dew, let’s get started!

FOUNDERS DAY

After introducing the concept of a classroom township to your students, the first item of business is to name your new municipality. My class made many suggestions, and after a vote Hunterville was the winning name.

p: Images_of_Money via photopin cc
The next order of business is to have a form of currency. My classroom was organized in groups which were identified as neighborhoods. I then gave each neighborhood a template of blank currency (rectangles drawn on white paper). The neighborhoods each designed ones, fives, tens, and twenties. Once again, we took a vote for the most popular of each and then I made photocopies.

To get Hunterville up and running, I provided each student with $200. With that money they were required to pay taxes, rent, and any fines they might incur. Anything left over was theirs to do with as they pleased. I explained that the only way to acquire more money was to earn it by either starting a business or working for someone else.

WAYS TO EARN A LIVING

The highly motivated students were the entrepreneurs. They were required to write a business proposal and submit to me for approval. Once approved, they applied for a business license, for which there was a fee. Each day they were open for business, they were required to have their license properly on display.

There were a variety of new businesses in Hunterville. One in particular was a bookmark making business where the girls designed bookmarks and then sold them to their classmates. The owner of the business had such a high demand that she hired two employees. Of course, she then needed to pay their wages, too.

Business owners who hired employees quickly learned about the relationship of general contractor/subcontractor and the can of worms that opens up. For example, if a job was not done correctly—or not at all, which did happen—the consequences first fell on the general contractor who then needed to take care of the subcontractors. Often that meant they fired their employees and needed to hire new ones in order to maintain a product for sale. Others decided it was not worth the headache and closed up shop and went to work for someone else.

Some students worked independently, such as the artists who sold their pictures to classmates. They learned their profession had an unsteady income, but ultimately decided they could live on less. Others liked the idea of a steady income and chose to work for the township cleaning the classroom, being the classroom librarian, collecting garbage/recycling, or enforcing classroom law. I provided the Tickets for Behavior to the officers who were on duty in the classroom, watching for negative behavior.

And then, as in the real world, others chose to not work at all. Consequences for this choice were dire. They learned that asking for money from their friends was short-lived at best, and they could not participate in any of the perks that required money (more on this below).

BASIC EXPENDITURES

Students were required to pay rent for their “home,” or in our case, their desk and surrounding space. Rent was based on the number of members living in the community and the location of the community within the classroom. For example, three students living together near the window paid a higher rent than five students living near the locked supply cupboard.

Those who did not pay rent received notices to pay or vacate, and if they continued to not pay rent they received an eviction notice. Those students lived on their own with their desk set apart from the rest of the community.

p: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc
One last requirement was that everyone needed to pay monthly taxes. Once again if they did not pay taxes there were consequences. Taxes were paid to the township’s treasurer (the teacher). That money was then used to pay salaries for those working for the township. It was also used to pay interest to those who had a savings account with the township’s bank. (I was the banker for Hunterville but I did have employees to help collect on debts.)

After about two months of Hunterville in full operation, one student decided to open his own bank, creating a healthy competition. The door was then wide open to discuss business monopolies and why they are not necessarily a good thing for the greater good.

INDIVIDUAL BENEFITS AND CONSEQUENCES

Students who were able to pay their debts and still have some money left over were allowed to make purchases such as Friday Free time, extra recess, and homework passes (certain restrictions applied!), or earn interest on money held in a savings account at the bank. The fact that their money could make money was very interesting and exciting for the students.

Once a month we had a Hunterville Marketplace. The students were allowed to bring items from home to sell to their classmates using Hunterville currency. I sent a letter home with each student that they needed to return granting permission to bring their selected items to school to sell. The students who did not have money could not purchase any of the perks and during Marketplace they were allowed to only window shop.

Of course friends would sometimes loan money to friends but that never lasted for very long. Ultimately, students who were without an income realized the benefit of having a job.

MEETING CURRICULUM REQUIREMENTS

Literacy: During your introduction of the classroom township, model how to write a basic business proposal and have an example posted for the students to refer to at anytime. Then, let your students work independently to write their own plan. They will certainly have a sense of accomplishment and ownership of their new business and will work harder to make sure it is a success. Be sure to check for content as well as correct grammar and punctuation before giving them final approval!

For those not wanting to start their own business, they are required to complete a job application with the same writing requirements. Students will also need to read the various notices that are posted by the township’s Mayor (also the teacher), and fellow citizens and comprehend what they mean. If they don’t, they will be surprised by the consequences that will certainly follow.

Math: Students quickly learn the value of money—how to earn money, how to save and earn interest. They also learn how to budget their money earned so they can pay their debts and still take advantage of the perks. The entrepreneurs especially learn about the concept of cost benefit analysis for services provided and money earned.

Art: With budget cuts and expectations for high-stakes testing, art in the classroom is a subject of the past. But in your classroom township there are many opportunities and teachable moments to take advantage of for you to teach art and for students to experiment with different media.

For example, your township will need a sign. I used butcher paper and paints and let the students use their creative skills to make a sign they would all be proud to display. Signs for the individual businesses are another simple way for students to express their creativity. Designing the currency is another wonderful opportunity for students to collaborate on art designs. All you need to do is provide a few materials—construction paper, crayons, paints, pastels, markers, or whatever else you find in the dusty art cupboard. Art does not need to be fancy but it does need opportunity to explore and then see what happens!

Social Studies: Creating a township is the perfect way to touch on so many aspects of living socially, government, laws, rules, and regulations. Your students will understand what it means to actually commune with one another. And they will see firsthand how everyone has a very important role to play in their community’s success.

It will not take long for the township to operate fully by the students, reducing your role to that of a moderator, more or less. If there are glitches along the way, and there are certainly bound to be some, your students will be more inclined to solve the problems themselves and carry on business as usual.

As you witness their transformation from student to active community leaders and participants in their township, you will cherish everyday even more that you go to work in your new town!

Kathleen A. Hunter, MS is a literacy tutor and aspiring children's book author. You can visit her online at www.KathleenHunterWrites.com.

© 2013 Kathleen A. Hunter. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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