I visited Exchange City when I was in 5th grade - I loved it. The program has been going strong in Kansas City for over 30 years. I'm so excited for my son to finally get his turn to go. Students visit in a day long field trip where they each get a job, a paycheck, pay taxes, bills and sometimes fines (like speeding tickets, or in their case, running tickets.) Jobs consist of things like Bank Manager, Police Officer, Postal Carrier, Radio Station DJ, or even the City Judge.
The City Judge is the only position which must campaign to be elected for this office at school in the weeks prior to the field trip. The kids who choose to run make posters, and create slogans. It prepares them for the concepts of running for student council office in the next few years, once they get to middle school and high school. (Kids go to middle school starting in sixth grade where I live.) All other jobs require students to make a resume, apply for a first, second and third choice job and explain why they are qualified, and get references from two adults (not family.) There's a lot of work before the big day of the field trip itself.
It's an excellent program. I remember I learned so much that day. I had no idea how my parents' jobs and paychecks were affected by taxes and bills, it was eye opening. I had no idea how you have to budget your money, and how fines can eat up so much of a paycheck (I, was, er, ticketed several times for running and yelling, I remember. I think I ran out of money to buy snacks and candy at the store - although we did have sack lunches.)
Other cities have similar programs, though they may not all be attended through school field trips. Check for such a program in your area. Exchange City Kansas City also has a summer camp program - although the 2011 information isn't up yet.
Teaching kids about elections and how we vote in the US is crucial to their understanding of government and civics. But teaching them how to function in society and business is even more important. Things you can do at home to help keep your kids in the know:
- Have a conversation with your school age kids about money, how what you earn affects the family, how bills are paid, etc.
- Give allowance, either in exchange for chores or just because, and teach them to save for things they want like Lego sets and video games.
- Dave Ramsey, financial guru, radio host and author of Financial Peace University, has programs for kids to learn how to save and use money to avoid debt. He also has teen programs. (They are Christian based programs.)
- Check out Kids.gov, the official kids portal for the federal government