One would not expect to hear kindergarten to Grade 5 students talk about finances and politics, but at Aspen Heights Elementary School that is exactly what you hear in the hallways.
With student-run banks, businesses, elected government, police, post office, newspaper and non-governmental organizations, MicroSociety is a school program in which the students create a real world microcosm inside their school.
“We get to learn all kinds of things like banking, responsibility, problem solving, how to work as a team and how to do things in the real world,” said Kade Kully, a Grade 4 student and public relations person at the Buzz, the marketing and newspaper business at Aspen Heights.
Three times a week for one hour Kindergarten to Grade 5 students forget about tests and homework and focus on running businesses, holding down a job and paying taxes.
“We make sure everyone has a job,” said Mackenzie Ryan, a Grade 4 student and deputy prime minister of the Aspen Heights MicroSociety.
Achieved through a means of employment ads and a job fair held at the beginning of the school year there is always the perfect job for every student.
Students must apply for the job and go through an interview process, and complete a work performance assessment conducted by their manager. Each student earns a wage in the school’s own currency, ‘stingers’ and makes deposits in the bank.
When visitors arrive to Aspen Heights to witness MicroSociety they are escorted to the visitor centre and shown a presentation by the prime minister and deputy prime minister about MicroSociety.
Guests are also given a cheque for 20 stingers, which must be cashed at the bank in order to make purchases at the local businesses. With the aid of a government official, visitors are shown all that MicroSociety has to offer.
“I like watching everyone have fun when they see MicroSociety,” said Grade 5 student Jordan Raugust, prime minister of the Aspen Heights MicroSociety.
Teachers assist students in setting up for each marketplace day then sit back and let the students take over. “I help them prepare and then I can walk away and walk the halls, because they are in control,” said Allen Baile, a Grade 4 teacher at the school.
Once the marketplace is open, students are free to walk around and enjoy the many businesses that include Worm Wranglers, a hardware and garden store. Moose on the Loose is like Aspen Heights’ version of Wal-Mart selling a variety of products that include clothes, movies and toys.
The Buzz is a marketing and printing store where students can have their own business cards designed and printed as well. Dream Catchers gift shop, the Book Nook, J&A Smoothies and Penguin Avenue are just a few of the other ventures that the students operate.
Students can even get their hair and nails done, or have a massage at the spa while listening to The Sting, Aspen Heights’ own radio station. Students can make requests for two stingers to hear their favourite song played over the intercom.
For students that want to be active, they can visit the wellness centre and play floor hockey or indoor soccer.
The Royal Aspen Mounted Police roam the halls looking out for students’ safety, and are not afraid to hand out fines for litterbugs or unruly students. Advertisers walk the halls carrying signs and hollering slogans and announcing services and sales for businesses.
In order for MicroSociety to remain operational at Aspen Heights they have had to rely heavily on school-based grants and donations from companies like State Farm, Dow Chemicals, Servus Credit Union and the parent council.
“Without State Farm, we would not be able to do this. We have received huge grants from State Farm to do this,” said Baile.
Baile estimates that it takes over $30,000 a year to keep the MicroSociety running.
As the only school in Canada that offers the MicroSociety program, Aspen Heights hopes to be a model school for others that want to implement the program.
“Other schools should do this to improve their learning,” said Ryan.
Aspen Heights adopted the MicroSociety program four years ago as a way to help motivate and provide their students with real life experiences; something the students were not exposed to beforehand, said Baile.
MicroSociety has been a form of self-directed learning for the students at Aspen Heights, and has helped them to excel at math, reading, and language skills, said Vice Principal Kelley Lund.
Baile is certain that the students genuinely appreciate and enjoy MicroSociety.
“Our kids that are graduated from here, that’s the first thing they say to me when I see them in the community is, ‘How’s Micro?’”