PITTSTON TWP. — As a photographer for The Biztown Press, 11-year-old Matthew Tosi roamed the make-believe village of Biztown on a recent Wednesday, looking for images to capture with an iPad.
“I’m trying to get everyone at lunch,” he said, “and every single business.”
Photo opportunities were plentiful, as Matthew’s fifth-grade classmates from Dallas Elementary School tried out all sorts of jobs at the Junior Achievement of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s JA Mericle Family Center for Enterprise Education.
Since it opened in 2007, nearly 30,000 students have visited the center for a taste of grown-up careers and financial management.
When it was Dallas Elementary’s turn, 10-year-old Chloe Dudick administered eye exams in her role as a physician while, as a biochemist attempting to solve a crime, 10-year-old Mark Karcutskie peered through a microscope at hair samples.
Ten-year-old Floyd Sutton, sporting a hard hat, introduced himself as a PPL worker and visited each little office to “change air filters” and offer advice on energy conservation.
“You can turn the temperature up in the summer and turn it down in the winter, just a degree or two, and you’ll save energy,” Floyd told the managers of various businesses.
Insurance-executive-for-a-day Emily Iannucci-Furman, for one, might have appreciated a lower thermostat setting. “I have to sign a lot of papers and print papers and hand them out,” she said. “It’s a lot of work and I’m sweating.”
Before the students came to Biztown, teacher Laura Baloga said, they prepared for six weeks. “We had lessons on interests and skills, lessons on what they like to do and the students filled out job applications.”
Teachers decided which job would fit each student, except for the position of mayor. This year, 12 Dallas Elementary students ran for the office and classmates elected 10-year-old Will Snowdon.
“I just want to make everybody smile and be happy,” the young mayor said, describing his platform.
Another important job went to Reagan Halbach, 10, who, as Biztown district attorney, visited each business to see if it had the appropriate license.
“I’m the perfect person to be D.A.,” she said. “Because I’m detail-oriented.”
Each student had listed three career preferences; Reagan said her second choice was deejay and her third choice was something technical.
Before she could explain more, classmate Steven Straka ran up to her, waving a “loan agreement.”
“I need you to sign this, please,” he said, pointing to a line where an attorney’s signature was required.
A few steps away, at a store called Suit Yourself, retail clerk Jonathan Bilwin waited on classmate Cordelia Cigan, who had taken great care with her appearance that day.
“I said yes to mascara and to her hair in a bun,” said Cordelia’s mom, Karen Cigan, a Dallas instructional aide. “But, no, I wasn’t going to buy her a new power suit.”
Noting she had overheard some youngsters discuss how to repay a loan, Cigan said, “It’s fun to watch grown-up responsibility dawn on them for the first time.”
“This gives them a taste of what their parents experience every day,” Baloga, the teacher, said. “They go home from this exhausted.”
During several hectic hours, students waited on each other in a cafe where popcorn and lemonade were big sellers, checked meters, sold retail items, printed out “payroll” checks and performed other tasks.
“A lot of people are saying it’s hard to be organized,” said Megan Bryk, 10, who, as a reporter for The Biztown Press, interviewed classmates about the day’s challenges.
Back at the little newsroom, editor Caitlin Curran, 11, read notes reporters had handed in.
“I’m looking it over and putting it in the order I want it to be in,” she said.
“It’s fun to work with people,” Curran said, describing what she saw as the best part of the day. “That’s what it’s all about, learning how to be an adult and having fun.”