Many local teachers are getting creative as they try to address budget cuts

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.

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