It's like a miniature town, with little people earning a salary as they serve in a myriad of different jobs with the common goal of maintaining a successful, fully functioning community.
But it's actually Cristy Pollak's sixth-grade class at Corona Creek Elementary School, in which students serving in these roles learn about economics and tackle work that otherwise might not get done, due to recent statewide budget cuts. And Pollak is one of many local teachers who have developed innovative ways as they have attempted to cope with the unprecedented wave of cuts, which have resulted in a loss of instructional and professional development days, as well as teacher's aide hours, among other things.
In Pollak's class, students turn in job applications and resumes, and some give references. All of the students are assigned a job, and they make between $500 and $600 per month, depending on the job, in Monopoly money, known as Mrs. Pollak's dollars. The jobs include helping classmates with homework, putting out a class newspaper, managing recycling projects and performing custodial services.
The students are required to pay $800 per month in rent for their desk, so they need to perform extra duties to earn an additional $200 to $300.
"It makes students aware of everything that goes on in economics, and has also helped to make up for some of the losses we've suffered in custodial services and teaching aides," Pollak said.
Her students enjoy the novel approach to learning, she said.
"They're enthusiastic about it, and what they end up doing is pretty magical," she said.
Pollak decided to implement the program after observing the success that Ani Larson, another sixth-grade teacher at the school, had with it. Larson implemented it about four years ago after being inspired by a chapter in "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire," a book by nationally acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith.
"I was interested in the different levels of moral development," Larson said. "I also wanted to bring the outside world into the classroom, and teach my students about the importance of being responsible."
Larson says that all of her students have embraced the program, and even look forward to paying the rent.
Pollak has been working on several other fronts to address budget cutbacks.
"The cuts mainly have affected teachers' ability to have extended activities, such as field trips and special events, that make learning more interesting because we have had to focus so much on book learning and other requirements," she said. "So, one thing I've done is apply for grants."
Pollak has received grants from Lend a Hand, Petaluma Educational Foundation and Target that have enabled her to continue offering field trips as well as purchase projectors and other equipment for her classes that she otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford.
Like Pollak, Patsy Knight, a fourth-grade teacher at Sonoma Mountain Elementary School as well as president of the Old Adobe Union School District's Teachers Association, has been faced with addressing a lack of funding for student field trips, but like Pollak, she has found a way to compensate.
"My students can't go to places like the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco or Monterey Bay Aquarium any more, but they're taking the reality field trips that are available on the Internet," Knight said. "A lot of places have trips and materials available online."
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