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Practicing Economy at Oak Hill

Summer camp teaches elementary school students challenges of real-life economy.

Teachers Kathleen Stakem and Jeannette O’Malley talk with students during the market, held on the last day of the week long economics camp.

Teachers Kathleen Stakem and Jeannette O’Malley talk with students during the market, held on the last day of the week long economics camp. Photo by Amiee Freeman.

What says summertime like lazy days by the pool, barbecues and the law of supply and demand? Perhaps that last one does not scream summer, but to the 46 students who participated in Oak Hill Elementary’s Economics Camp, which concluded its third and final week-long session last Friday, the law of supply and demand plus other economics terms are now clearly defined.

This was the first year this summer camp was offered to Fairfax County Public School students. Sixth grade Oak Hill teachers Kathleen Stakem and Jeannette O’Malley developed the camp based on a similar camp held at James Madison University. Rising 4th graders through rising 7th graders could attend the camp.

"Our hope is that this camp will make kids more aware of what adults do" regarding money, said O’Malley. "We also hope that they will realize that money doesn’t just appear."

Stakem agreed with O’Malley. "We hope to make them aware that this is what happens in the real world," she said.

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During the Economics Camp market day Maddie Bullock buys a sponge water balloon from Maddie Ward. The sponge balloons were selling for $25.

TO LEARN ABOUT ECONOMICS, the students created products from the very beginning: visualization of the products, market surveys to determine desirability and value of the products, purchase of raw materials, rental of "workspace," and, finally, sale of the products. For each day of "work" the students received $100 in camp money. Each student was also given a job, such as banker, realtor, or shopkeeper. This job earned a salary as well. With this money they purchased the supplies needed to make their products. They could only spend the money they had in hand; credit was not an option.

"They made a lot of money each day, but were very busy. They liked having the money, but did not like being so busy," said Stakem with a laugh.

The students also learned the difference between revenue and profit. "These were very foreign concepts at first," said Stakem. "In the beginning, they thought revenue and profit were the same."

Half way through the week the students received an electric bill for their rented workspace. "That was another big shock," said Stakem, explaining the students have never before considered that electricity was purchased. In addition, different calamities were drawn out of a hat and inflicted on a hapless business owner: storms, water damage, illness. The students learned the value of insurance, said O’Malley.

Also, they had to pay a 30 percent tax on their business. "They were shocked by that too," said Stakem.

In addition to making a product, the students read "The Lemonade War" by Jacqueline Davies. This novel about two siblings who start separate and competitive lemonade stands was a good launching point for discussion, said O’Malley.

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Andrew O’Rourke displays his product, fake mustaches. "Mustaches are fun to wear," said O’Rourke. At $15 the mustaches were selling quickly.

ON THE LAST DAY of the camp, the students held a market where they sold their products. Duct tape was a key material for many of the products for sale. There were duct tape flowers, duct tape jewelry and duct tape bookmarks. Also fake mustaches made of foam paper and elastic bands, origami trinkets and reusable water balloons made of cut-up sponges.

In explaining their choice of products Chang How and James Tredinnick threw around economic terms like financial gurus. How, who made sock puppets, said he originally wanted to make tissue box guitars, but the resources needed to make the guitars were "scarce," said How.

Tredinnick made cup guitars which did not appear to be selling too well due to "low demand," as Tredinnick said.

Scarlett Sullivan sold out of the duct tape roses she had made. Meanwhile across the aisle competitor Nate Eldering was selling a similar product. Sullivan said her roses must be of "better quality."

All the students agreed the camp was fun and a good use of their own scarce resource: summer vacation.