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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."

Also, Sonoma Mountain offers a class for parents to learn how to help with their children's education, and the Parent Teacher Association has helped to raise funds for supplies.

"It has provided scissors, glue, Sharpies, pencils and other things," she said. "But I never thought I would have to ask parents for a box of Kleenex."

Casey Stuelpe, a seventh-grade English teacher at Kenilworth Junior High School, says that cutbacks have affected the school in several ways.

"We've lost certain programs that we would like to have, such as summer school and after-school intervention programs," he said. "We've also lost staffing and library time, and classes are a little more crowded than teachers prefer: We can't give as much one-on-one attention as we would like.

"But I'm not feeling all that hindered yet within my classroom," Stuelpe said,

This is partly because Kenilworth's Parent Teacher Student Association has provided him with support.

"The PTSA got the staff and the student populations involved in a fund-raising drive last year, and raised about $30,000," Stuelpe said. "This enabled us to continue having things such as dances, and midway through the year, I was able to get a Document Camera for my classroom that allows me to stick anything underneath it, and project it to the class.

"I project students' work onto an screen, and as a result, I've seen the quality of their work improve."

Dan Noble, a first-grade teacher at La Tercera Elementary School, says that he has been affected by increased class sizes and diminishing money for supplies, for which he compensates in several ways.

"I've reduced our use of paper by using magnet boards and "white" boards instead, and other teachers and I share our resources," he said. "Also, I and a lot of other teachers now spend money out of our own pockets for supplies such as file folders, organizers and pencil and pen bins."

Due to budget cuts, Diana Utroske, formerly the full-time computer teacher at Corona Creek, now works two hours per day as a classroom aide in sixth-grade classes.

"It's OK —?the teachers have been very good, but I'm not used to working for somebody else. They are happy I'm in their classrooms, in case they need to ask computer questions," she said, laughing.

When she works in classrooms, parents now fill in for her by administering computer quizzes to students. Also, the school recycles items such as toner cartridges, ink cartridges and cell phones, which enables it to purchase new computer equipment.

While each of these teachers has developed creative ways of address budget issues, they generally single out teacher commitment as the main ingredient for navigating through these difficult economic times.

"Teachers are doing many things on their own time, and always are looking to get better and learn new strategies," Stuelpe said. "When I'm around teachers, I always feel that I'm surrounded by professionals who are committed to getting the job done."

"Teachers have a tendency to step up to the plate," Knight added.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)