Archives for April 2014

Learn about work and money? When?

Where can your ten year old neighbors learn about the value of work and how to keep track of money? In a place called Biztown.

Downtown Biztown

Downtown Biztown

There is a whole little village that most of us will never see. Among its several stores, it includes a bank, a sporting goods store, a branch of the Humane Society, a construction company and even a newspaper. It is called Biztown and is tucked into a building on southeast Foster Road.

Biztown is the brilliant work of Junior Achievement of Oregon. In the Multnomah and Clackamas County area, many schools choose to spend a six weeks preparation time and one day of experience at Biztown.

Every child at Biztown has a job that they applied for, wrote a resume and were interviewed for. Their teachers assign them jobs based on their resume, their interview, and their ability to understand the job for the day.

These jobs range from being the mayor, the CFO or CEO of one of the businesses, to clerk in a sales venue or a reporter in the Biztown Journal. The students have learned how to do their job before they come, and, just as importantly, they have learned how to keep track of their pay, learned about depositing money to the bank, withdrawing cash, writing checks, and a new wrinkle this year, learned how to use a debit card.

They learn that some purchases they want to make at Biztown will cost them more than they earn during the first pay period. Thus, planning and saving become important if you want that adoptable doggy in the Humane Society.

Town Meeting

Town Meeting

Any area school that has the funds to do it may include preparation for a day at Biztown. There is a cost for the curriculum and the day at Biztown. The non-profit local Junior Achievement office works with area businesses to cover most of the cost, but there is a school fee of $18 per student, plus bus transportation to the site on Foster Road.

Parents and adult friends volunteer in each business to help the kids focus on tasks and to help the students understand the use of the bank deposits, how to take out cash and how to save for something they want to buy in one of the stores.

I volunteered for the third time in The Biztown Portland Business Journal and my husband always volunteers at Key Bank. It’s a kick. We find that the students come ready to work and want to succeed. At ten and eleven years old, a few might be easy to distract, but they get back to their job when reminded. Their focus is on exploring this new world that is a replica of the work-life of their parents.

The Journal editor knows her way around the simple computer layout program and she knows how to encourage her reporters to go out and get interviews with people in the town. Reporters have several pre-written stories, but the interviews are done on the big Biztown day. Each year, the reporter student’s picture of how to interview is different, but every time, they end the day understanding a little more about how to ask questions that give them a story.

The Journal has a photographer as well. Getting photos of fellow citizens can prove a daunting task. I have learned that it helps for a reporter to work with the photographer. Photos and interviews are done together and both Journal students enjoy the work more when together.

The Biztown Journal

The Biztown Journal

Each business has a chief financial officer. The Journal’s CFO comes knowing that getting out the paychecks to the staff, and paying the bills is his or her main focus. The CFO also gets the other businesses to pay for ads in the newspaper. Each year, The Journal’s CFO has done the job with great concentration.

During the second series of staggered breaks, when a third of the students are shopping, the photographer and the reporters at The Journal turn into sales people. At five cents from each customer’s Biztown pay, a copy of The Journal becomes a souvenir of their day that might end up in Mom’s memory box and be found years later. So, the students and the volunteers all want a copy.

With these sources of income, The Journal, and most of the other businesses, are able to pay off their business loan at the bank by the end of the day – a big measure of the day’s success.

For each student, staying above Zero in your checkbook, yet enjoying the various businesses is the measure of a good BizTown day. Both business and individual successes are celebrated at the final Town Meeting in the town square. And success is celebrated by the class the next day when they are back to normal kid life.

Citizens on a Break

Citizens on a Break

Junior Achievement has many programs designed to help older students also become aware and ready for career and personal finance choices they will be making as adults. A worthy addition to every student’s curriculum.

Take a look at their impressive offerings at their website: And then ask your local school what it would take to make the Biztown experience a reality for your neighborhood kids.