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Column: Teaching kids about business has lessons for adults

Every three years — as my kids have cycled through fifth grade — I've trekked to Largo for some cynic cleansing.

This year, in particular, it helped to step away from recessionary fears for a stint as parent volunteer at Enterprise Village. For the uninitiated, the village — led by the educational gurus at the Stavros Institute — is our Tampa Bay community in miniature. A fast-paced marketplace where replicas of more than a dozen area businesses and a town government are run for a day by 11-year-olds.

It's a slightly bizarre parallel universe where pint-sized patrons eagerly stand in line at Bank of America to deposit

$5 checks; just about everybody forks over a quarter for an eight-page edition of the St. Petersburg Times; and no one at Market Street Mortgage is obsessed about subprime loans.

The mayor, village attorney and the guy pushing for water conservation all get cheered when they step to the podium. And the sales reps for Bright House and Verizon aren't aware they're supposed to be in a turf war as they laugh over burgers at McDonald's.

To a fifth-grader, there's unspoiled joy in doing a "real'' job and getting paid for it. The satisfaction of figuring out how to peddle Bucs merchandise trumps the size of the paycheck.

No signs of the economic slowdown penetrate the village (save for staffers musing how Market Street Mortgage will be replaced by Sweetbay next year because of MSM's woes in the real world).

The climate is blissfully absent of e-mail diversions and cell phone interruptions. But the kids work up a sweat keeping track of the books, the bank deposits, the bills, the duties of their mini-companies. Somehow, all the bookkeepers manage to report a profit at day's end.

Ostensibly, Gus Stavros and Pinellas County educators envisioned Enterprise Village — and its big sibling for eighth-graders, Finance Park — as a way to show youths just how integrated we are in the business world.

But there's an unspoken lesson here for the big people: No elixir for the business blues is as powerful as watching the next generation of capitalists learning the ropes. And having a lot of fun making the climb.

I asked my daughter her favorite part of the day. "Being able to act like an adult,'' she said right away. Funny, my favorite part was being able to think like a kid.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at harrington@sptimes.com or

(727) 893-8242.

Column: Teaching kids about business has lessons for adults 03/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, March 15, 2008 6:03am]
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