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Hudson middle-schoolers run JA's Exchange City

Hudson Middle School sixth-graders will be balancing their checkbooks this week to see if they have avoided that dreaded grown-up problem of being overdrawn.

That and a lot of other adult-type concerns and issues have been on the minds of these students for weeks now as they prepared for their turn at running Exchange City on Nov. 17.

Exchange City is part of a program designed by the Junior Achievement organization to help young people understand the free enterprise system. The city is located in a large building on White Bear Avenue in St. Paul. Inside is a small city complete with businesses, a factory, retail shops, services and a city hall that operate with a full staff. That staff includes owners, accountants, sales people, product designers and professionals like journalists, healthcare workers and policemen.

Nancy Gavin is a teacher in the middle school's Raider White house. Gavin said the students are assigned to work in a particular area of the city. There are six weeks of preparation to the actual day of running the city, and those preparations spill over into all aspects of the curriculum including math, social studies and language arts. Students wrote letters of application and interviewed for jobs. Several dressed up for experience.

"I shook an awful lot of clammy hands after those interviews," said Gavin. "but they took it very seriously and did their best to get the jobs they wanted."

As business owners they learned about applying for a bank loan to operate. Designers and production workers decided what they were going to sell in their businesses and how to make the items. Students received paychecks and were required to have bank accounts and keep checkbooks. They paid taxes and spent the money they earned during their day in the city. Each day included shifts at work, lunch and other breaks, paydays and some leisure time.

Gavin and other sixth-grade teachers, along with more than a dozen parent volunteers, participated in a training session to help the students through the experience. Upon arriving, one of the first things the students did was elect a mayor, a municipal judge and decide on the police force and sanitation crew. The mayor made a speech and the laws of the city were spelled out.

During the two weeks following their day at Exchange City, students will be evaluating the performance of their businesses as well as how they handled their personal finances.

"The kids were wonderful," said Gavin, while standing at the busy intersection of General Mills Street and Best Buy Boulevard (the city is underwritten by several Twin Cities corporations). "There isn't much fooling around. Everybody is staying on task and it's great to see them encouraging one another. This has been a lot of work but you can really see it paying off here," she said.

Meg Heaton can be reached at

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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