May 29, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Fifth-graders at Bremen Elementary School formed their own societies during the past six months to learn about entrepreneurship and economics.

This was the first time the program called Mini-Society has been used in Muhlenberg County, but it has been part of many University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service programs in other counties for the past two years. The program was created by a member of the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in Kansas City, Mo.

The program uses experienced-based curriculum in entrepreneurship and economics for children aged 8 through 12, said Tommy Harrison, Muhlenberg County Extension Agent for 4-H/Youth Development. Under the program, students organize their own country, design a flag and develop their own currency. They also determine how they will make money in their societies.

"It was a fun and exciting way to learn," said fifth-grader Jack Bullock. "It helps us relate to real life experiences and prepared us for the CATS (Commonwealth Accountability Testing System) test in the spring. All the economics questions, I learned in Mini-Society."

At Bremen, the 52 fifth-graders in three social studies classes used the program to develop individual societies. Although each class selected its own way of making money, in general students earned money based on attendance, grades, conduct, and having all materials on hand every day.

In addition, there are several paid positions within the society such as treasurer and pay master. To get those jobs, students had to fill out an application, give a speech to the class and then the class decided who got the job. In some instances, they had to go through job interviews with the teacher. Store keepers and money cutters (a person that actually makes the money and cuts it) were also paid positions within the societies.

Each student decided what type of business he would have within the society. Many provided goods but some went into service industries. There was a newspaper, florist, game show, knickknack shop, baseball card store and more.

Using a $1,500 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a warehouse was stocked with supplies that the students could use to make products to sell in their societies.

Harrison said the goal is for students to gain a better understanding of economics and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They learned concepts such as profit and loss, supply and demand, and scarcity.

"We want the kids to have a little better respect for money," he said. "We want them to hopefully understand the economic system a little better and understand the possibilities of being their own entrepreneur some day. Some of the kids had no idea about profit and loss, they were buying supplies for $50 and selling their products for $2. It didn't register. They didn't understand why they had no money left. But after their friends began stockpiling some money, they got a little better idea of the process."

Last week, the students were wrapping up their program by presenting an overview of it to teachers from other county schools as well as the county's judge-executive. Grant money allowed them to hire substitutes so the teachers could be away from their classrooms for the presentation, Harrison said.

Fifth-grader Samantha Neptune told the guests the program is worth implementing in their schools. "The kids will love it and it is a good learning experience."

Neptune, who was a paymaster in the society Freedom Land, said students surveyed their peers and plotted profit curves to determine if a business would be successful.

In order to bring it to the county, Harrison along with Bremen counselor Donna Harrison and one of the school's teachers attended a workshop on the program.

"We had a great time and I was thinking if I had this much fun and learned as much as I did, the kids are going to be the same way," said Donna Harrison. "It's a good way to learn economics."

Social studies teacher Laura Trotter said the students loved the program. "Every day students wanted to know, is this Mini-Society day."

Trotter said the program provided students with a hands-on real life experience. She noted an example of students learning about competition in the market place. One business found itself with a competitor selling at a lower cost and said it wasn't fair, she noted, but that's the way it is in the real world.

"KERA is real big on hands on and this goes right along with it," Trotter said. "Also, we were very careful to make sure the core concepts are being taught. And it wasn't just economics, we were able to include government. I was real pleased, the majority of kids really took it seriously and wanted to succeed."


Tommy Harrison, (270) 338-3124