Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shaping Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs Today: Exchange City

If you grew up in Kansas City, you’ve probably been to Exchange City. You might even remember your “job” while you participated—whether you were a cop, banker or server at the café.  Exchange City is a hands-on learning experience for middle school students.  And now, Exchange City has incorporated entrepreneurship into its curriculum.  Read on to discover the role that Exchange City has in shaping tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

Terri Swartz-Shelton and Greg Swartz are the ambitious brother-sister force behind this project. Greg is the business mind behind the scenes and Terri is a retired teacher who designed the 6-week curriculum that is taught to the students. Exchange City students learn about different businesses and careers and fill out applications for their top picks (the students even elect the city officials!).  Every different job has its own storefront. The bank (sponsored by Arvest Bank) looks exactly like a real bank—line and all! There’s even a police officer that gets to ticket people for stepping on the grass (O.K. it’s really just green carpet)!

The program stresses social studies, finance and economics. The little entrepreneurs have to write business plans and determine how to budget so their products will be profitable. But most importantly, the kids participating in Exchange City learn the mistakes that businesspeople make when starting up a business.  According to Terri, it’s better when they fail at first. “We believe in experiential learning,” she says.  “The kids will learn to revamp their products to make them profitable. We want them to learn by doing.” 


Phillip McCann (pictured above), age 11, worked at the front desk of the bank. He informed me that his official title is “Retail Branch Associate”. He pulled up the database on the computer and showed how he deposits paychecks and check individuals’ balances. His favorite part is that he “gets to deal with money”. Phillip even mastered customer service skills; “I’m already a people person, but they taught me how to say stuff.”

Jennifer Morales, age 13, was a cook and server at the Corner Café. They served a wide array of snacks—from ice cream sandwiches to trail mix (yum!). When asked why she chose this job, Jennifer said, “I picked this job because I like food a lot and I like to cook”. Her least favorite part (besides sweeping) was when she got ticketed $10 for wandering off without telling her manager. “It was my whole paycheck!” she said. 

This not-for-profit organization will never turn a child away from the program, even if they can’t afford the $20 ticket. Exchange City is currently looking for sponsors and partnerships. Contact Terri or Greg if you’re interested!

In the future, Exchange City wants to incorporate Exchange City alumnus and add an international business presence to their program. Terri and Greg’s biggest goal is to make a lasting impression on the children. Ask anyone who’s been to Exchange City, chances are they’ll remember their role in the city forever.

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