WARNER ROBINS -- Young entrepreneurs from across Houston County gathered at the Museum of Aviation Wednesday to sell their paper airplanes, stress balls, superhero capes and even massages during Market Day.
Held in the museum's Century of Flight Hangar, the day marked the "culminating event" for a long-term project held in many of the district's third-grade classrooms, said Gretna Soltis, Houston County's social studies director.
"I think they are learning how are society works for real," she said.
Teachers glean the particulars of the project from a three-day training provided by the Georgia Council on Economic Education. There, they learn how to set up a "minisociety in their classroom," Soltis said.
"Not every teacher has been trained yet, but that's our goal."
The trained educators took those lessons back to 1,069 Houston County students this year, and those students set up everything for their classroom cultures, including elections, campaigns, country names and flags. They also had to go on job interviews and select the products they would eventually make within their society, products that would eventually be sold at Market Day for the currency created in each country.
"The classroom becomes a factory, pretty much," Soltis explained.
Langston Road teacher Jessica Hawk, in her 13th year as an educator and ninth year in Houston County, said her students created the nation known as the Legendary Stallions, where the currency is the "staller." The mix of more practical tasks such as organizing elections and job interviews with creative tasks like designing a flag provides opportunities for a variety of students to shine.
"I think it gives children that are so creative the chance to go through that experience," Hawk said.
To land on a final product for Market Day, students did product surveys around their schools, both to test out ideas and set a final price. Some students hit on a product that other students liked right away, but others weren't so lucky.
"Some kids had to completely retool their product after that," Hawk said.
From there, students had to figure out how to produce the goods or services they had designed while earning currency for attending class, teaching them the lesson that they'll have to come to work to get paid.
If they require a parent's help, that assistance can't come for free.
Last year, a student planned to offer ballet lessons but needed her father's help building a ballet barre. She had to pay him for that work from her classroom currency, which cut into her final profit.
"I would think just seeing the risk a business has to take," Hawk said of those "real life" lessons of the project.
Parents could spend their earned currency or exchange real dollars for currency at Market Day.
One of her students, 8-year-old Madilyn Yarbrough, said that learning those economic concepts was one of her favorite things about the minisociety.
"What all the words mean, ... like consumer, producer, profit and opportunity cost," she said.
Madilyn sold her Rainbow Magic pens and Color Wheel pen cups alongside classmate Tyler Davey, 9. He was part of a group selling "sand poppers," colorfully decorated paper noisemakers that have been popular in classrooms for years.
He said the racket that his poppers produced was probably the appeal of the product.
"Maybe they like loud noise," Tyler said.
The real money earned from the currency exchange will go back into the classrooms, with last year's revenue having purchased books for all 123 of the county's third-grade teachers, even those who hadn't yet been trained for the project.
Soltis said the classrooms participating in Market Day ranged through all ability levels of students. Further, the concept aligned with the government and citizenship lessons of third-grade social studies.
"So it goes beautifully with our standards," she said.
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter@MTJTimm.