NEW PORT RICHEY
Payday at Moon Lake Elementary School had Roberto Rohde, Jon Martin and Wesley Williams immersed in some serious addition as they pooled their "weekly wages" in the back of Stephany Federico's fifth-grade classroom. • Take what was left over from last week and add the $284.62 check Roberto had earned as a bank teller, the $327.31 Jon pulled in as a secretary and Wesley's hard-earned $278.38 for collecting trash, and things were looking pretty rosy for the three "roommates." • Grand total? • $1,450.38. • "We're rich! We're rich!" Jon exclaimed as he jumped up to exchange high-fives with his classmates.
The celebration was short-lived however, when Mitchie Michael, 18, came around to present the three with an electric bill for $145.
"Now write me a check," she said with a smile. "The water bill comes next."
"That stinks," Roberto said as he began tending to the new total. "Snap — I have to write another check. We have to pay for the car after this and we haven't even paid for food yet."
Welcome to the real world.
Using a pretend scenario to give fourth- and fifth-graders a taste of grownup responsibility is the idea behind Money Machine, a program being presented in five classrooms in three elementary schools by members of River Ridge High's Future Business Leaders of America chapter.
Once a week, about 20 FBLA students fan out to Calusa, Schrader and Moon Lake elementary schools to teach the children how to pay their dues. Jobs and salaries — from police officer to door person to trash collector — are handed out randomly, while students have the option to buy a home or rent an apartment, take the bus or buy a car. They learn how fill out deposit slips, write a personal check and balance their funds in a construction paper-covered check register. Sometimes they have a chance card that comes with a monthly bonus, but mostly it's about paying rent, utilities and the expenses that might come with an unexpected veterinary bill or a spur-of-the moment decision to take the family out to dinner at a cost of $40.35, tip included.
The enterprise program, one of three community projects the River Ridge FBLA chapter is conducting this year, is a reflection of what is going in people's homes, said chapter president, Katie Burke.
"Money is a big issue these days as far as debt and all the foreclosures," said Katie, who organized the monthlong Money Machine venture with Mitchie, who is vice president. "I don't think kids realize the things that their parents have to pay for. We wanted to teach them about money management and how it can affect them."
Katie, 18, who has a part-time job in the front office at Moon Lake Elementary, said she adapted a lesson she learned back in sixth grade in Renee DiVincent's math classroom at River Ridge Middle.
"I learned a lot. It still helps me today to budget for things I have to pay for — my laptop, my phone and little technology things," she said.
That lesson is one she and other FBLA members hope to pass on to a younger set who last week spent some busy time with the heads together trying to manage their money and were reluctant to halt their lesson, even when it came time to go to lunch.
"It's fantastic," said their teacher, Federico. "They really love it. They really get into it. They even freak out a little because the bills are coming in — but I think it's been a real eye opening experience. I hope it will help them as they get older."