VASSALBORO — After 10 minutes of instruction by teacher Sunny Brown, second-grade students were split into groups and given shopping lists, along with a bag of fake money.
The groups on Thursday morning had to figure out how much money they had, how much the items on their shopping list would be by looking at a corresponding chart, then making sure they had enough money to pay for their groceries.
The Vassalboro Community School students, in groups of three or four, worked diligently with each other, counting their money out and comparing them to the prices on the groceries list. Students were saying the denominations of each piece of currency out loud to their partners, adding up the totals on a large piece of scrap paper lying in the middle of the group.
After the lesson, Carrie Coombs, owner of Courtney’s Hot Dogs in Winslow, spoke to the class about the importance of fiscal responsibility when operating a business.
“Just like how our customers are shopping for their lunch when they’re waiting in line, when we go and buy our products for the restaurant, we need to shop to get the most out of our money,” Coombs said.
The lesson plan that was used, which was developed by Jobs for Maine Graduates specialist Victor Esposito, is one of several dozen Jobs for Maine Graduates has developed to increase applied learning at the earlier grade levels.
“This plan is to get the students to realize why it’s important for them to know about money,” Esposito said.
The state legislature passed two bills in July, L.D. 370 and L.D. 90, with that same aim. One of the bills would set up a program that identifies the best practices of applied learning opportunities in kindergarten to eighth grade, while the other focuses on high school students and works to close the skills gap that is plaguing the unemployment issue in Maine.
Jobs for Maine Graduates, a statewide nonprofit organization that helps prepares middle school and high school students for life beyond school, is trying to add more applied learning and career exploration into the elementary school years. The longterm goal is to develop economic and career in the state.
Thursday morning at Vassalboro Community School, JMG President Craig Larrabee, Esposito and Coombs took part in the second-grade lesson about money.
The students sat and listened to Coombs, engaged in learning about the hot dog business most of them had frequented. While more complex concepts such as taxes weren’t the focus of the lesson, students still had some understanding of the concepts.
“In New Hampshire, they don’t have sales tax,” said a second-grade boy in Brown’s class, adding his input on taxes in the state.
With more than 70 education specialists throughout the state, Jobs for Maine Graduates has an abundance of community and business partnerships that it works with to provide applied learning lessons and career exploration.
Next Thursday, Larrabee will have a briefing with the education committee about the progress of L.D. 370.
“Education is the responsibility of the entire community, not just the school,” Larrabee said. “When you can create practices so it’s easy for people interested in volunteering in the classroom, it makes it easier for people in the community to help with the learning process.”
The primary goal of Thursday’s lesson was to teach students how to handle money and learn its everyday use, while also teaching students about career paths, like working in a bank or retail store.
The lesson plan is one of several that Larrabee plans on showcasing at next Thursday’s briefing with the education committee. By the school year’s end, Larrabee hopes to have 75 to 80 lesson plans posted on the state’s Department of Education website for the best practices of applied learning. The goal for the bill, Larrabee said, is to make the type of applied learning the Vassalboro students took part in common at the elementary level.
“Applied learning is already a big part of our curriculum at the middle school and high school levels,” Larrabee said. “We don’t want our kids waiting until they get into high school to start thinking about their future. Instead of being told about opportunities, we want them to experience them. It’s not a new concept, it’s just a great way to get them motivated about education and why education is relevant.”
An example of that motivation is Coombs’ son, Gage Dorval. Gage, 8, hopes to open a lemonade stand at his parents’ restaurant to make some money and take part in the family business.
“This is when they’re thinking about what they want to do, what they want to be when they grow up,” Coombs said. “Right now, they are learning those basic skills. I see it every day when he brings his homework home with him. I agree with the importance of children learning how to make change and other basic math skills.”