• Nov. 2, 2023

    CAPS course focuses on financial literacy & career readiness

    BizTownMore than 150 Upper St. Clair fifth and sixth graders recently got a glimpse into the future as they experienced Junior Achievement’s BizTown, a day-long simulation of running a town. The exercise is the culminating activity of the new CAPS course at Boyce Middle School.

    The CAPS course – short for Consuming and Producing Successfully – is a newly developed curriculum within the expressive arts rotation at Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools. Upper St. Clair students in grades five through eight receive instruction and hands-on learning in the areas of financial literacy, community and economy, work and career readiness, business management, entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

    “In our first lesson, students explore their passive consumption habits, including what they spend, what they watch, and the information they absorb,” Dr. Kelly Pascarella, Boyce Middle School CAPS teacher, said. “The overarching goal is to transform them into active producers within our society. We encourage students to reflect on their current roles as producers, considering what they can create or contribute to the world as a product or service.”

    Located in nearby Bridgeville, the BizTown simulation experience allows students to take on roles as business leaders, workers, and consumers, participating as active citizens to run a miniaturized town. Complete with realistic store fronts, debit cards, checkbooks, online payments, Wi-Fi installation, health insurance and an elected mayor, it provides an authentic and fully immersive learning experience.  

    BizTown“This hands-on approach allows students to see and experience the concepts they learn in the classroom,” Dr. Pascarella said. “By taking on various roles and responsibilities, students must think critically and problem-solve when unexpected situations and challenges arise. Their decisions impact the success of their business and the overall community.”

    Prior to their day-long experience at BizTown, students are introduced to career readiness topics, including creating video resumes, filling out job applications, and refining their interview skills.

    “These skills prepare them for the role they will play when they run their own business where they calculate operating costs and take out the loan they will need to start up their business at BizTown,” Dr. Pascarella said. “Their goal at BizTown is to pay off their loan and make a profit.”

    Running an entire town takes many hands and lots of oversight. To assist, the Boyce CAPS program partnered with students enrolled in the Financial Literacy course taught by Jared Nicholson, a math teacher at Upper St. Clair High School. Approximately 25 high school students provided guidance and supervision throughout the day.

    Check writingThe high school students are trained by BizTown staff prior to the simulation day, and are responsible for overseeing the functioning of the businesses, guiding the students through their roles, and ensuring the business runs smoothly.

    “The high schoolers' guidance enhances student engagement while providing feedback and encouragement throughout the experience,” Dr. Pascarella said. “Their enthusiasm, knowledge, and diverse perspective enhances the learning experience for our Boyce students.”

    The USCHS Financial Literacy course explores the concepts of budgeting, saving, banking, compound interest, retirement, credit cards, the stock market, product profitability, and loans, including financing higher education.

    “BizTown is a great experience for the high school students,” Mr. Nicholson said. “Not only are they building relationships while volunteering with our middle school students, but they are also reinforcing valuable topics for their own learning, including loans, interest rates, payroll, product pricing, and net income.”

    Much like the middle school students, his high school students are often surprised by some of the course content.

    “The most eye-opening moment of the course is the budgeting project. They never realized all of the monthly costs associated with being an adult,” Mr. Nicholson said. “Students are also struck by the power of investing early.”

    BizTownIn addition to the Financial Literacy course, Mr. Nicholson will teach a College in High School accounting course that begins next semester. He believes that financial literacy is essential in order to help ensure students can make solid financial choices in the future.

    “Many financial choices made early in adulthood can have large impacts on your financial standing later in life,” he said. “Teaching students how to properly manage their money from a young age has lasting positive impacts.”

    Dr. Pascarella believes that teaching financial literacy and career skills in early middle school is important in the development of responsible citizens.

    “CAPS encourages students to become producers in a free-enterprise society, effectively using technology and resources to solve problems and represent ideas,” Dr. Pascarella said. “The course curriculum opens students' eyes to the world of work opportunities while setting expectations of being a responsible citizen within a community and society.”

    The CAPS course was added to the expressive arts rotation at Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools at the start of the 2023-24 school year.

    BizTownAt Boyce, the expressive arts include art, CAPS, music and STEAM design – each of which lasts for one nine-week marking period. Since this is the first year of implementation for the CAPS course at Boyce Middle School, all fifth and sixth grade students will get to experience BizTown this school year. Beginning with the 2024-25 school year, only the district’s fifth graders will participate at the end of their CAPS rotation.

    The expressive arts program at Fort Couch includes art, music, STEAM design, CAPS and communication arts. In the seven-week CAPS course for seventh graders and the six-week course for eighth graders, students become entrepreneurs by evaluating the world around them, identifying a problem to solve, then creating and building a product-based solution. Students then sell their product or service, evaluating the performance of their business idea, and iterating to incorporate learning. Students leave CAPS having defined, built, and launched a product in the market, complete with a business model canvas, a budget and pricing model for the business, a product name and brand, a pitch deck, communications and marketing materials, sales goals, reflections, and student portfolio.