This program makes dollars – and sense
Teacher uses business model, expediting her students’ learning
MARSHALLTOWN – When Anna Wolvers starts class, she gets down to business. So do her students.
That’s because Wolvers, a special education teacher in Rogers Elementary School in the Marshalltown Community School District, has turned pull-out time to represent a business, complete with pretend salaries, incentives for good work and dings for insufficient work or bad behavior.
While the program works on math, reading, writing and social skills, bonus lessons are in financial literacy and life skills, all of which put the kindergarten-through-fourth grade students on the path to career and college readiness.
“I model the class as a business where the students are employees,” Wolvers said. “We talked about business structures and how it relates to the school structure.”
Wolvers, who launched the program just this school year, got the idea from a poster: “Can’t-free Zone.”
“I was working to move the kids away from thinking negatively,” she said. “One small idea expanded into having students fill out applications just as they would if they were applying for a job.”
Upon applying for the job of student, the kids receive a $100 sign-on bonus, using fake money. That’s where the fun starts.
“First of all, I tie it to behavior using the Rogers Pledge: respect, cooperation, doing your best and being responsible,” Wolvers said. “They do that each time they are here, they get paid $5 – just like a paycheck. There are other things tied to making money. For instance, if they go up on their IEP (Individualized Education Programs) goals, they get a bonus $10. If they pass a level, they get a $20 bonus.”
Conversely, students learn there are consequences for insufficient work or bad behavior.
“It teaches them there are choices and there are consequences,” Wolver said.
At the end of each week, there is the financial reckoning in which bills must be paid (there are rental charges for school equipment such as their table, chair, pencils and erasers).
After rent, they have to save 10 percent of their earnings and give another 10 percent to a charity of their choice.
Then there’s the shopping.
“We let them shop with the remaining 80 percent,” Wolvers said. “They choose from the shopping list. Prizes also are seasonal, such as flowers at Valentine’s or pumpkins in the fall.”
Students have gravitated to the program, with some earning $300 or more.
The program teaches math skills, employability skills, needs versus wants and literacy in which Wolvers tries to work in a book that complements one of the available prizes for purchase. The students also name their businesses, such as LearnerVee with the motto, “Where there is a student in every chair.”
Students catch on quickly to the world of being a learner – and being an employee, Wolvers said.
“A third grader asked me about holiday paid vacation,” she said. “I told him he was going to be a CEO.”
Classroom engagement is through the roof.
“The kids love it,” Wolvers said. “I like their excitement and wanting to earn and spend money. They also encourage each other: ‘you are going to owe money if you’re not working.’”
The students have made academic strides through the program.
“I have seen gains in them knowing what it means to be a student and actively try to learn and grow socially,” she said. “Math wise, they know what money is and does, and they’re learning how to add it, count change, and budget for needs verse wants. My kindergartners can identify 1’s and 5’s and state they’ll get $1 change from $10 for the weekly rent. Money is a skill several have had trouble understanding in the past. My very wise third grader makes better connections to money and business. He’s been struggling in subtraction. If I relate it to money – ‘you have $7, how many more do you need to get $10’ – he can get it, but saying 10-minus-seven, he struggles.”
Getting fined for unexcused absences hasn’t gone unnoticed by the students.
“Almost all of them have great overall school attendance,” Wolvers said. “Just like at a job, you have to work to be paid. There’s a $5 unexcused absence fine to try to help with that. There’s only been one of those so far this year.”
The students also are now actively participating in their education.
“We’ve eliminated ‘I can’t’ and ‘I don’t know’ as excuses not to try,” Wolvers said. “It’s changed the mindset to one of growth.”
It’s also improved behavior.
“One kindergartner threw a bunch of cards at me and then said, ‘that wasn’t very nice. I think I owe you a dollar.’”
She voluntarily paid up.
“I am hoping to teach them life skills, how to manage money and make smart investment choices,” Wolvers said. “I want them to know what a learner is and to be learners. It is amazing how this program has grown.”