Unique way of learning

They may only be five years old, but pretty soon kindergarten students at Aspen Heights Elementary School in Red Deer could be delivering mail for pay, Grade 4 and 5 students will be running a bank and others will be taking out loans to set up businesses.

They may only be five years old, but pretty soon kindergarten students at Aspen Heights Elementary School in Red Deer could be delivering mail for pay, Grade 4 and 5 students will be running a bank and others will be taking out loans to set up businesses.

It’s all a part of a program called MicroSociety that will bring social studies to life at Aspen Heights.

The unique way of learning was created by George Richmond, a New York City teacher, in 1967. It later expanded to a school-wide concept and now is used in more than 200 schools across the United States. When Aspen Heights begins the program with students in the spring, it will be the only Canadian school using MicroSociety.

Although just in the preliminary stages, it looks like students will work at their tiny community three days a week for 45 minutes to an hour each day, starting in the spring.

There will be a newspaper, a police service and even a school currency that each student will be paid in and be able to spend at school businesses. Students will have an election to form the government. Every student will have a job, receive a wage and pay taxes.

Before any of this takes place, students will be learning about how society and government works, how to write a resume and do a job interview. It will be a learning process not only for the approximately 200 students from kindergarten to Grade 5 but also for the teachers who will help them start the tiny community.

Last May, seven educators from Aspen Heights visited two MicroSociety schools in California. Milt Williams, a Grade 5 teacher at Aspen Heights who is co-ordinating the program, said he was sold on MicroSociety before he went but the rest of the staff members were won over when they saw how confident and poised the students were at the schools.

The teachers would walk into the little shops and ask for the teacher in charge and the Grade 4 manager would walk up to them and start his or her business spiel. They were impressed with how confident, articulate and in charge the students were.

“The boys and girls that we met, you could see the leadership skills they had developed,” said Aspen Heights principal Peter Laszuk. “They were very well-spoken, courteous and really knew what they were talking about because of the responsibility given to them by the staff.”

Many of the MicroSociety schools are in areas where income levels are low and the number of single-parent families are high. But Williams said the schools not only see better attendance and higher test scores once MicroSociety is underway, but also more engagement by the students. He hopes the program will motivate children to achieve and show them that they all have their own talents.

“We want to educate the whole child. We want them to learn to be good citizens. We want them to learn respect and be confident when dealing with people. We want to show them that they can have the future they want if they use their skills properly,” Williams said.

Laszuk said he hopes the program will entice students who are chronically late or who don’t arrive at school regularly to be at school on a daily basis. He said it is also refreshing for the staff to try new ideas.

The school hopes to get community and business leaders, as well as parents, in to talk to students and help them in the process.

Teachers at the school recently received their first two-day training session. In March, a more detailed plan will be done with a test of the project likely taking place in April and May. The school hopes to have a more permanent program started in September 2010.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com