EAST PRAIRIE - Charleston and East Prairie students got their first taste of ruling their world Monday as they participated in the first day of the Mini-Society program for youth in Mississippi County.
"They really liked it," said Jeanice Griffin, youth coordinator for the East Prairie program. "They wanted to come back tomorrow to go on with their society."
Griffin said the Mini-Society program, an experience-based instructional system for teaching entrepreneurship and citizenship concepts to students from ages 8 to 12 years, was established in Mississippi County by the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in partnership with the Kauffman Center, a private foundation.
"Our executive director, Martha Ellen Black, found out about (the program) so we applied for the grant through the Kauffman Foundation," said Griffin. The grant is for one year.
Griffin said each run of the program will last seven weeks, with three two-hour sessions each week.
The program is designed for 20 participants per society, so the program will be ongoing throughout the next year with two new groups each session. The first session is being included as part of the summer camp program. Officials are still looking at options such as an after-school program for when school is back in session.
Linda Layton is the teacher for the East Prairie mini-society facilitated by Griffin and Lester Gillespie at the Susanna Wesley Youth Center on West Pine Street.
The Charleston Mini-Society summer program with youth coordinator Gwen Wade is being held at Susanna Wesley North, 209 West Commercial. Elementary teacher B.J. Burke is instructing the Charleston course.
Under the guidance of the teachers, the students develop a self-organized economic society. "It's not taught, it's experienced. It's facilitated," Griffin said. Students spent their first day naming their country and deciding on a flag design.
Griffin said other more difficult decisions follow such as weighing the benefits of a democracy versus a republic; deciding between a presidential or parliamentary executive branch; and choosing whether to have welfare system or not.
"Tomorrow they'll go into their money," said Griffin. Each society will select a treasurer, paymaster and money-cutters. They will also decide what kind of participation will entitle each member of their society to receive their pay.
During the course of the program, participants will have to identify opportunities and initiate business ventures to provide goods and services for the community. "They have to do their own thinking," said Griffin, "experiencing problems directly of an economic nature as well as political and social. It's highly motivating."
The goal is for the children to grasp "real world" concepts and develop practical skills that will prepare them for future endeavors, according to Griffin. "It gives them a sense of power and self-sufficiency - and they get to have fun while learning."
The students will also have debriefing sessions where they discuss how their decisions helped or hurt their society. "They have to live with the consequences of their decisions," Griffin said.
Supervisors and instructors for the program undergo special training in order to facilitate the program, according to Griffin. "You go and experience the same things the youth do."
The program was conceived by Dr. Marilyn Kourilsky in the early 1970s and has been refined, extended and extensively tested over a period of 30 years. It has been implemented in 43 states nationwide.
For more information about the Mini-Society program, call the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center at 649-3731.