April Top Notch Teacher

Published On: Apr 06 2010 04:27:21 AM CDT   Updated On: Apr 06 2010 04:27:00 AM CDT
Mary Johnson

Teachers teach children how to tell time and count money, but how do you teach kids to manage them?

A Holmen teacher has a unique way of teaching her fourth and fifth graders how to manage themselves and accept responsibility for their actions.

At the beginning of every year, Cindy Lipke's 4th/5th multi-age classroom writes a class constitution and hold elections.

"The congress creates the rules of the room and the consequences, like what are the fines going to be," Mrs Lipke says. "They then take it to the Executive Branch, and they either accept it or veto it, and then it goes to the Judicial to make sure that the rules are following our constitution."

Mrs. Lipke, the banker, pays them $5 for every day they're at school.

In addition, students can apply for classroom jobs to earn extra money and even start their own businesses, like selling bookmarks.

"I had this kit that I got for Christmas, and it had some punched out stuff, so I would buy construction paper and I would paste them on," says Lydia Ryan, who "owns" the business "Books, Etc." in Mrs. Lipke's classroom.

Each month students visit the bank, where they can cash checks, get paid for the work they've completed and pay bills.

Students must pay $5 fines for talking, or not putting their name on an assignment. They're also required to pay $100 rent for classroom furniture.

When Sam Noble visited the banker this month, the rent he owed in addition to some hefty classroom fines took all but 50 cents from his savings.

"Well I thought I was going to go homeless," Sam says.

If they can't pay rent, Mrs. Lipke takes their chair and asks them to find another quiet spot in the room to do their work.

This month Sam's just barely getting by, but he's got the right idea to catch up so he can pay $100 next month. He's taking on a second job, washing tables in the classroom for $2.

Sam's going to be washing a lot of tables, but he's determined and learning one of Mrs. Lipke's important lessons.

"If they've had a lot of talking fines, they may first think, 'well what's a couple bucks here and there,' but we add up, look how much this cost you," Mrs. Lipke says.

There are other lessons learned through the year-long activity.

"We've learned how to write the memo, our signature, actually how to write them, because usually I wouldn't know how to," says 5th grader Jenna Hauser.

And because she has her students for two years, Mrs. Lipke is teaching big picture, life-long lessons.

"They change their roles. The fourth grader who's always been the top of his class, he finds out there's people who know more than he does," Mrs. Lipke says. "And on the other hand, say it's a weaker student, when they're a fifth grader, fourth graders come in who they actually get to help."