|| FRONTPAGE >> NEIGHBORS
Sampling the world of
By SHERYL RICH
Dec. 15, 2003
Sheryl Rich Kern
Police office Patrick Dorney is giving bank president
Joshua Kern a ticket for the violation of walking on the grass
during his break. City attorney Nick Solano, center, looks on.
Sixth-graders from Charlotte Avenue School in Nashua took a field
trip to Exchange City in Portsmouth on Dec. 4 to learn basic
filtered through the foyer of One Justice Place where Mayor Matt McCarty
paced alongside his cluttered desk.
His employees were overlapping
voices on the fiscal crisis: the city’s tax rate structure could not help
pay off the municipal loan. Should he raise taxes?
the fines,” blurted police officer Patrick Dorney. Others
The mayor faced tough decisions. While his popularity
rating was high, he risked a reversal of fortune. Perhaps, he and his
employees could compromise: Maintain the fines, but create more laws, such
as “no walking on the grass.” Certainly, this prohibition would snag a few
more felons, not to mention hefty cash.
Would this solve problems
or create more? What about generating revenue by renting space at City
The mayor’s worries would only last a day, but the lessons
they taught would linger for life for him and the other students piloting
an economics program Dec. 4 in New Hampshire. Donning uniforms and props,
104 sixth-graders at Charlotte Avenue Elementary School in Nashua had the
opportunity to try out the economics concepts they had learned in the
classroom in an authentic, simulated mini-city.
It’s all in a day’s
work at Exchange City, the brainchild of The Learning Exchange, a
nonprofit national education-consulting organization. Developed in 1982 in
Kansas City, Mo., Exchange City provides a six-week classroom curriculum,
which culminates in a one-day hands-on field trip where students manage a
simulated economy in a mockup indoor town, reinforcing the lessons learned
in the classroom.
Executive director Philip Ross moved the program
eastward with an office in Portsmouth on 25 Granite St. He first heard
about Exchange City in 1994 from his staff at the Lake Ossipee Conference
Center, an education facility in Freedom, where he presides as director of
Camp Cody in the summer. A few weeks later, he went to Kansas City to
visit the Learning Exchange.
By 2000, the organization granted him
the Exchange City license rights in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine
and Vermont, and he developed a nonprofit foundation to oversee the
project. Currently, individual and corporate donations, such as those from
Liberty Mutual, keep the program operational. Ross expects to host between
12,000 and 15,000 students each year, allowing the organization to
financially support itself.
“Exchange City lets students actually
experience and not just imagine what it is we’re teaching and preparing
them,” Ross said.
On Dec. 4, the executive director opened the
gates of the freshly painted, 7,000-square-foot Exchange City to Charlotte
Avenue sixth-graders who were the first official New England citizens. In
front of them lay 14 shops, including everything from a bank and
distribution center to a sign shop, snack shop and sporting goods
Students immediately ran over to their assigned jobs
(they had filled out job applications in the classrooms). During the
course of the day, they were selling their wares, sorting letters through
the postal system, writing, selling and printing a newspaper and
broadcasting tunes over the airwaves. They wore the coats of workers and
citizens in the high-wired world of producers and
According to “Mayor Matt,” who campaigned and won an
election at school, his municipal job created more stress than he had
anticipated. He didn’t realize the challenge of managing the accounts on
the computer system.
“I’ve learned the real world is harder than I
thought it was,” McCarty said. “I would like to be a student
Shop owners and employees had the task of taking out a
business loan at the start of the day, with the intention of paying it
back by the day’s end. All had a method of making income, whether it was
selling radio advertising for the broadcast center or footballs for the
sporting goods store. In the morning, the employees set up their
businesses with supplies from the distribution center, outfitted by the
Exchange City organization. By the afternoon, the citizens could break and
purchase goods after receiving their paychecks.
owner of the nature shop, sighed as she sat in the quietude of her
“The biggest challenge is paying off our loan. I don’t know
if we’re going to make it,” she said. She doesn’t think she would like to
own a shop. “I’ve learned a lot about economics and the meaning of the
Later in the afternoon, Pipilas’ mood shifted. She lowered
the price of the tissue-paper flowers from $2.50 to $1.50, and the pencil
toppers with wrapped pipe cleaners from $2 to $1. Within an hour, shoppers
wrote checks as fast as she could ring the register.
that if you lower the prices of some items, people are more likely to buy
them,” she said. That day, her shop cleared a $55 profit.
Long, proprietor of the Exchange City sign shop, didn’t see her profits
increase until she starting creating more popular signs and began
advertising a “buy one, get one free” policy.
“I’ve learned how to
handle money, manage advertising, pay off a loan and treat employees,”
Alex Thurston spent the day trying out the role of a
beat reporter for the radio station, prowling for story tips in the
day-old Exchange City.
“You think it’s really easy,” Thurston said,
“but it’s really not, because you have to walk around, find good stories,
interview people and ask the right questions. Our teacher told us we would
do this all on our own. This has been the best field trip we’ve ever been
Circuiting the town was also part of Nick Solano’s job as city
attorney, as he gave each shop its business license. “I’m enjoying my
job,” Solano said. “It feels great to be here and be part of a big
In contrast to the itinerant attorney and radio
reporter, Joshua Kern saw all the businesses but never left his desk in
his role as bank president, where he processed loans and monitored
deposits on the computer.
“Every time I looked up I saw a line in
front of me,” Kern said. “I was working every second.”
Daranong echoed the frenzy as she pulled out her bag lunch near the snack
shop. “Wow, I finally get to sit down,” she said. “Now I know how my mom
About 14 parent volunteers participated in the field trip,
spending the day with the students and attending a training session
earlier in the week.
“I think one of the things that made the
experience so remarkable was that the kids were able to incorporate the
economic concepts they had been studying into actual activities, said
Jeanne Batchelder, a parent volunteer.
“All of the children had
specific and important tasks, and everyone had to work as a team to make
their business operate in the black, a concept they fully understood. They
repeatedly ran to the computer to check the status of their bank loan
balance, hoping to pay off the loan by the end of the day. There was
little time for anyone to be disengaged, as frequently happens on other
field trips. The kids were too busy working and smiling.”
the concepts of supply, demand, scarcity, production and consumption is
the experience Exchange City hoped to create, explained Jane Weber,
interdisciplinary curriculum specialist for social studies for Nashua
Weber came to Portsmouth for the day to observe
the field trip, so she can promote and explain it to the middle school
principals for next year.
“Previously, the sixth-graders were
learning economics by memorizing vocabulary. Here they have to produce
when there’s scarcity. They’re learning a tremendous amount. I’m very
enthusiastic,” Weber said.
Ross knows the students are learning a
lot, and he can prove it with independent studies. The Indiana Center for
Evaluation demonstrated that Exchange City improves test scores,
particularly in economic understanding.
“The teacher reaction to
the program has been the best reaction of all,” Ross said.