Learning on the Job
Mini-cities are sprouting across the nation to provide students with real-world educational experiences.
“Exchange City” targets students in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades and provides six weeks of an advanced curriculum that culminates in a one-day “Disney-esque” simulation experience, said Connie Campbell, the president of the Learning Exchange, a nonprofit education organization in Kansas City, Mo.
The program, licensed to youth organizations, including Junior Achievement, is introduced to districts and local communities for approval. Businesses, school districts, community leaders, and volunteer groups then help build a replica of a city.
The models range in size from 10,000 to 15,000 square feet and cost anywhere from $350,000 to $3 million.
Students prepare for their day in the mini-city by researching systems of government and learning about economics. Then they get the chance to take on real-life roles and run their own city—but first they have to land jobs by reading classified ads, writing résumés, applying for jobs, and interviewing. They also elect public officials, such as a mayor.
The city operates a bank, a court system, restaurants and offices, a technologies consulting firm, a daily newspaper, and a utility company. It even has its own postal service.
“The children become real citizens in a real city facing real consequences for their actions,” Ms. Campbell said. “If they don’t prepare well, the city doesn’t run very well.”
The program is expanding rapidly. Already, 15 sites served nearly 100,000 students during the 2000-01 school year in cities such as Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and West Palm Beach, Fla.
“This is not a cookie-cutter project,” said Stacey Poore, Junior Achievement’s director of product implementation. “It gives students and teachers an incredible opportunity to expand outside the classroom.”