It’s been shown in an overwhelming number of instances that using the school curriculum in everyday applications is one of the best ways for students to learn. Chocachatti Elementary School’s MicroSociety proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ms. Silvina Doherty is the coordinator of this program.
MicroSociety allows children to choose a job lasting either one semester or a whole year in some area of interest. They can even earn “money” which they can spend on various goods and services offered by the businesses run by the students.
On Tuesday, April 12, Chocachatti students, teachers and administrators came before the Hernando County School Board to demonstrate and talk about some of the various jobs and businesses in the Micro Society program. This included performance, gardening, raising animals in a 4-H program, broadcasting, culinary arts and student government. This program prepares the students for middle school and from there to high school and after that either college or a vocation.
Another benefit is that the teachers get to teach what they’re passionate about and that rubs off on the students. Micro is just one part of the school day and these teachers are also responsible for the regular lessons they teach each day−language arts, math, science, etc. This often requires that the teachers come in on weekends and holidays to make sure the programs run smoothly.
MicroSociety also gives the children an opportunity to work with each other and become productive members of society. For example, they can learn about law enforcement by being part of the crime-stoppers program, economics by being an “employee” of the Chocachatti Bank and food preparation by joining the culinary arts program.
Ms. Lara Silva, principal of Chocachatti, stated, “My major philosophy, as well as that of the administrators and teachers, is we truly believe that children are more than their academics. They are lovers of farms; they are lovers of music, art, dance, acting. They are all of the careers that we know are out in society.”
At the beginning of the school year, the students prepare resumes, fill out job applications and then interview for two or three jobs they’re interested in. Two weeks later, they find out what job they got.
In talking about the MicroSociety, assistant principal Nick Pagano commented, “Students can explore their passions. When kids have a voice and a choice in their education, anything is possible and they can be really successful.”
Some of the children have gone on to careers in the “job” that they had at the school. For example, one of their students who was in the crime stoppers program years ago is now applying for the Hernando Sheriff’s Academy.
The first group of students to demonstrate their skills were first and second graders under the direction of music teacher Dr. Roland Hanneman. The children performed three songs on the keyboards. You could tell they were really focused by the serious looks on their faces.
Next, Mr. Robert Russell who is head of the Chocachatti News Network−the broadcasting program− introduced fifth-graders Nicholas Azevedo and Janelly Collazo, two of the students in that Micro. Every morning the students air the news which is broadcast throughout the school. The broadcast consists of the weather, the lunch menu for the day, some news tidbits, an inspirational quote and perhaps a joke. To demonstrate what this is like, School Superintendent John Stratton participated in a short broadcast with Janelly and Nicholas acted as cameraman.
The gardening students in the Farm Fresh program talked about their experiences in gathering fruits and vegetables for composting. Master Gardener Dr. Cagel works with this program, along with Mrs. Lisa VanCleave and several other teachers. The children learned the importance of trial and error in determining which methods for making compost worked best.
Many of the micros are interrelated. For example, the culinary program uses the crops that the students grow. The children presented the school board members baskets of herbs and other items that they had prepared. In addressing the gathering, Mason Lynch displayed the students’ pride in their work when he explained that they had grown everything in the potato salad, including the potatoes!
In the Cheftastic Café, part of the culinary arts program, students get experience in all aspects of the food industry−from shopping for ingredients to serving the customers. Evan Shutt explained his role in shopping, hosting and serving. Enzo Rocco cooks, acts as host and also serves the food.
In introducing the students who participate in the 4-H Micro Farm, Mrs. Silva related an anecdote regarding a student who was nervous about going up in front of the judges at the county fair to show his rooster that he had raised. She explained that as soon as he held the rooster in his arms all his nervousness went away and he even won grand champion.
“For me to see a student that doesn’t get an award or certificate for scoring a Level 5, a score on a standardized test,..Not many kids can say that they are grand champions and earn a belt buckle. It takes a lot of dedication and love and there is a lot of science, math and reading involved.”
Mrs. Amanda Siani, Mrs. Sara Skidmore and Mrs. Alicia Russell run this program, which is the only one in the nation to offer 4-H during the school day. The children learn what it’s like to work a farm. They gather eggs from the chickens they’re raising and they work with goats also. Next year they’ll be working with a pig and a steer and these animals will be shown at the county fair.
The students have to learn the names of the different breeds of chickens, what diseases they’re susceptible to and the parts of the chicken. Then they go up in front of a judge to present the poultry. Some of the children were proudly wearing their huge belt buckles they had been awarded for being named a grand champion.
Holly Bigger, a third-grader, observed, “I love being with the chickens and caring for them. If you care for the chickens they will care for you and be comfortable with you.”
The dedication of these teachers is evident in the fact that they give up weekends, holidays and summers to come and take care of the animals.
Ms. Silva remarked, “Without their help we could not have such healthy beautiful animals.”
Mr. Pagano introduced fourth-grader Damon Thomas, student government representative and class president. He’s also the star of Chocachatti’s upcoming play, “Shrek, Junior.” He was poised and assured as he addressed the audience, without the use of notes, and described his experiences.
From the enthusiasm shown by the teachers and students, it is evident that the MicroSociety program, now in its twenty-third year, has proven to be a success. Perhaps the most accurate test of the program’s effectiveness is the support the parents have given it.
One parent whose third-grade son was “hired” by the Chocachatti National Bank commented that her son is constantly applying what he learned. He counts his piggy bank nightly and frequently counts back change at the local markets to ensure they are not shorted money by the cashier. He brags about his job to family members.
Rather than taking away from the academics in something that some people might think is frivolous make-believe, the MicroSociety teaches children real life skills, helps them make decisions and gives them experiences at a young age that they might not ordinarily have.