May 6, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Apollo students learn real-life lessons in Rocket City
About a dozen little heads peered out from a row of oversized cardboard boxes, directing their attention toward a classroom door at Apollo Elementary School.
Moments later, a line of third-graders from a visiting class entered the room, and the quiet anticipation was quickly replaced with the busy wheeling and dealing of a marketplace.
Such is life in Rocket City, a bustling simulated town, marked by cardboard shops and led by an elected student mayor in Lauren Molnar’s third-grade class.
“The students get creative and it’s fun to see their engagement level, because they spend so much time preparing,” Molnar said of the six-week simulation.
The Classroom City unit gives Molnar’s students a hands-on practicum of the inner workings of government and commerce. They elect leaders, set laws, craft a business plan and sell their wares to visiting classmates, referred to as “tourists,” in their little town.
As the visitors file into the classroom they are given a “wallet” full of blue and green currency. Student merchants sit patiently in their cardboard boxes, while “customers” peruse through the city businesses.
The goods, crafted by the students themselves, vary from jewelry and bookmarks to pillows and key chains.
Hannah Ward, already a savvy business associate at the age of 9, stood beside her Pretty Paper Crafts “company” and handed out business cards.
It’s all about supply and demand, she said when asked how she sets the prices of her handmade paper crafts. Business owners often negotiate with their “customers” and diligently record their sales in an effort to keep a balanced book.
As most of the students do, Hannah, of Newcastle, has to pull double duty, acting as a City Council member and a business owner. It’s tough to juggle the two roles, she said, but she’s learning a valuable lesson about citizenship.
“We’re learning how to be a good citizen and to vote, and make a good decision, depending on what you think, not what your friends think,” she said of the city experiment.
The first person visitors see when they enter is Rocket City Mayor Anjali Dixit. Anjali, 9, occupies a piece of prime real estate next to the entrance because she has an important job — she must greet the tourists.
Anjali, of Newcastle, was elected by her peers after giving a rousing campaign speech, she said.
“I promised I would help people if they needed it,” she said. “I would keep Rocket City safe and make sure there’s no littering.”
So far so good, Anjali said of her performance as mayor. April 15 was an important day for the Rocket City leader as she entertained two special guests in State Rep. Steve Bergquist and Issaquah School Board member Anne Moore.
Bergquist and Moore joined the other tourists as they traveled through the classroom city and left with a bag full of goodies from the student merchants.
Moore’s own children, now high schoolers, went through the unit as elementary school students, which made her all the more eager to visit Rocket City, she said.
“When I told my kids I was coming here today, they went, ‘Oh my gosh, can I come too?’” she said. “This was one of the most memorable parts of third grade, in getting to take part in this experience of Classroom City.”
Classroom City is an annual tradition for the school’s third-grade enriched academic program, Molnar said. Known as MERLIN, which stands for Mind Education Right Left Integration, the advanced class follows the same general curriculum, but goes deeper into the content and at a quickened pace.
This Classroom City unit works in concert with the class’ studies on citizenship and economics.
“It’s a great experience to learn what the real world is like,” Moore said.