Before you actually walk through the doorway of Young AmeriTowne, you can hear the fun and excitement.
When you peer through the slim glass windows, you can see the beehive of activity taking place inside. There’s music in the air, courtesy of the AmeriTowne radio station, and students — on this particular day, fourth and fifth-graders from Stober Elementary School, running the whole shebang.
Young AmeriTowne is an award-winning educational program offered to 4th, 5th and 6th grade teachers to help students learn about business, economics and free enterprise and financial literacy in a fun and hands-on way.
There are three Young AmeriTowne campuses, but Jeffco students attend the Belmar location. The permanent facilities in Denver and Belmar feature a life-like Towne with 16 businesses plus a Towne Hall.
Each year, teachers from 420 Colorado schools use the Young AmeriTowne curriculum, with more than 34,000 students attending in person. The program, designed by Young Americans Center for Financial Education, was created in 1990.
Prior to their school’s visit, students go through fun steps like applying and interviewing for the job they’ll do when they arrive. From Mayor to package delivery person — all walks of life and types of jobs are represented.
Students can be a doctor, banker, radio DJ, television personality, grocery clerk, accountant or even a police officer who’s authorized to give out tickets to Townies who break the rules. If you do get a ticket, expect to be hauled before the judge to plead your case. Rumor has it, the judge is usually pretty reasonable and lets folks off with just a warning.
Mary Tallerday Smith, Assistant Director of Young AmeriTowne, was once a student enjoying the experience herself. She said the experience is much more than just learning about jobs.
“The students each have their own personal checking account and goals to balance their own checking account and to help their business make a profit and pay back a bank loan with interest,” she said.
Ronald Buttermore, director of Young AmeriTowne in Belmar, said a lot of the experience is connected back to community by teaching real-world lessons in running a town for a day.
During a student’s time at one of the campuses, they receive AmeriTowne money that is direct-deposited into their checking account. They can use that money to purchase goods or services from other businesses during one of their break periods. They learn to write checks, use a debit card and be responsible consumers as well.
Tallerday Smith said it helps kids understand how businesses and towns work, and how inter-dependent they are.
“Every business has to pay other businesses for things like radio advertising. They also have to pay rent to City Hall,” she said. “It kind of teaches them how communities work together.”
In the course of running their businesses, students also learn about economic principals like supply and demand — raising prices if things are selling well but stock is running low, or advertising or slashing prices if goods aren’t selling.
Aside from lessons about economics and finance, both Buttermore and Tallerday Smith agree that one of the best things about the program is seeing how children find themselves and express their personalities in the jobs they take on for the day.
“It’s really cool to see these kids step into these roles — kids that might normally be shy — having them take on these customer service skills or show their talents in writing for the newspaper, doing math at the bank or just interacting with other kids they might not be used to talking to, is so rewarding,” Tallerday Smith said.