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Education

Tampa Bay Program Helps Fifth Graders Make Sense of Their Financial Futures

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M.S. Butler

The first time some students learn about finances is during a high school economics class. Others learn by trial and error, but one program in the Tampa Bay area already has a  history of helping  students get an early start on making sense of their finances.

Here in central Pinellas County, just like any community in America, it’s early morning and everyone is beginning to show up for work.

Buses are unloading and students are heading  to  businesses like Verizon, Duke Energy and CVS Pharmacy which are getting ready to open.

But here on Enterprise Avenue all of these businesses are being run by fifth graders.

The students line up and shuffle their way impatiently into a building where the inside looks like a cross between a small town Main Street and a shopping mall. There's a city hall decorated with patriotic bunting at one end and the local newspaper office at the other.

This is all part of Enterprise Village, a self-contained small town. It’s where elementary students get first-hand experience as business owners, employees and consumers.

Designed to expose students to financial skills they will need sooner than they think, this is a required field trip for every fifth grader in the county. During their time here today, everybody will get a job, a bank account and a paycheck to spend.

One of the teachers here, Barbara Ina knows what she wants students to take away from their visit.

“Well we hope that they will have a good understanding of how a business runs and how to manage their personal finances," said Ina. "They already know how to spend mom and dad’s money. So we hope they have a good background in keeping up with their check registers, working as a team—a lot of business vocabulary.”

The day starts with the National Anthem and then it’s off to stock the shelves with merchandise from the wholesale supplier and get ready for shoppers.

This may be the first experience many of these kids have with purchasing and inventory. Checks are written and there's an early rush to the bank to make deposits and get cash.

It’s a little overwhelming at first for 11-year-old Matthew Rennie, but he holds his own.
“Yeah, everybody was coming towards us, so we had to work our butts off to try to get everybody through," said Rennie. "Now I know what it’s like for my Dad and Mom to be working every day.”

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Credit M.S. Butler
Bank of America is one of the career options for working students at Enterprise Village

Every student gets a debit card and a check ledger to balance. They are expected to save some money and spend some to support this small, local economy.

Today they'll learn about profit and loss, balancing check books and spending wisely.

"And because you're getting cash back you have to sign your name right here. So sign right there." "Oh, I didn't know you had to do that."

 It’s no coincidence all the stores here are actual businesses. At Enterprise Village they want to keep the experience as real as possible and the name brand companies help sponsor the program and lend business experience . They buy groceries at Sweetbay supermarket, bank at Bank of America, get their vision checked at BayCare. 

But there’s also a city hall where students participate in recycling, donating to their favorite charity and of course, voting.

Since it opened in 1988 it has been estimated Enterprise Village has hosted more than a half-million students. Many of them, parents of today’s students. Barbara Ina has seen generations of students who took part in the program.

“I know people who are 35-years-old and still say what a great experience this was and all the things that they remember,” said Ina.

These are skills that parent-volunteer Gina Cannarozzi  has been trying to teach her kids even before coming to Enterprise Village. She already has them fill out their own deposit slip and deal face-to-face with tellers when saving money from chores or grandparents.

 “I think it’s helpful for them to do their own stuff and to realize money doesn’t grow on trees," said Cannarozzi. "They’ve got to manage it and figure out how to  do it. The earlier the better, I think.”

To follow up to this early dose of personal financial education is Finance Park right next door where in three years, as eighth graders, these same students will get ready for car insurance, investing and more.