June Marotta’s Lesson Plan for Social Responsibility and Economics

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My mother, June Marotta, taught me about money matters as early as I can remember. She taught what things cost, how to look for real value, and how to comparison shop as she took me along on shopping trips. She had a strong sense of humor and a clear, honest method of communicating.

She brought that same sense of curiosity and discovery as a 5th grade teacher and Vice Principal of Keys School from 1976 until 1985.

While at Keys School, she developed a method of hands-on teaching for practical economics that involved a school currency called “Keybucks.”

Here is the paper she wrote toward the end of that time documenting the process in a way that others could emulate.


Every Friday afternoon at Keys School in Palo Alto, a transformation occurs. Students become entrepreneurs, store managers, bankers, and consumers. All actors who people the “real” economic world. Yet this world is certainly not make-believe for the children involved. With checkbooks or weekly pay in hand, kindergartners through sixth graders head for the bookstore or the general store eager to spend their wages, or maybe just to look over the possible purchases.

This Friday afternoon bazaar is the most visible manifestation of a project that in fact involves all teachers and students every day of the week in an economic simulation of the real world. Every student is encouraged and provided the opportunity to hold one or more jobs at the school, earn the local currency (Keybucks), and spend or save their earnings as they wish. In fact, the program is so popular that among third to sixth graders, approximately 90% of all students participate by holding regular jobs. This paper explains the reason why we decided to initiate this project and how it benefits our school.

One of Keys’ stated goals has always been to teach children social responsibility. This is a lofty objective, but one we realized we were doing little to implement. In looking for ways to develop responsibility and show students the relevance of their classroom learning, we decided to simulate an economic experience. We had read that such experiences were highly motivating to students: we had had a limited but successful experience with an experimental program in a single classroom. The project described here, however, is different in that it involves the entire school. Also, the ability to earn money is not governed by or related to academic performance as it was in the earlier experiment. The primary characteristics of success, as in the real world, are reliability, responsibility and quality of performance.


In designing the program, we formulated the following objectives for the simulation:

  1. To help students develop a sense of responsibility through having a job which demands regular attendance and provides regular earnings.
  2. To help students develop the ability to manage money they earned and to plan ahead.
  3. To provide situations which require the practical application of skills learned in the classroom.
  4. To confront social and ethical issues (questions of fairness and abuses of the system) relevant to the larger world and,
  5. To provide a variety of learning experiences so that all students would have an opportunity to be successful in school, even if they were not stars academically.

Four years after its inauguration, we feel that the system, though by no means perfect, is a solid success. Each year is different depending on the children involved and the resources available to support it. Like any good free market system, it is infinitely flexible, adapting to the needs and resources of the environment. It is precisely this flexibility which we believe makes this project a viable and exciting one for any school regardless of its size or location. What follows is a description of the system and how it developed at Keys. This is offered not as a prescription, but merely as one example of how the ideas took root and bloomed at one school.


At the beginning of the school year, teachers identify and define the various student jobs they will supervise. Job descriptions are written and disseminated through a special school “Want Ad” edition of the Keys newspaper (See Appendix A for a sample page). Those students who wish to apply for a job are required to complete a standard application form (see Appendix B) which includes information regarding references, prior experience, reasons for wanting the job, and why a student feels qualified for a particular job.

Job applications are reviewed by the faculty: jobs are awarded to as many students as possible although, inevitably, some students do not apply at all or fail to meet the deadline. However, this unemployment is only temporary. For those interested in finding a job, the faculty makes sure there are ample jobs available.

Children who have secured a job enter into an employment contract (see Appendix C), signed by both the employer and employee. Each retains a copy. Students are taught how to do their jobs appropriately. Those who fail to live up to expectations, despite warnings and encouragement, can be fired. Children often choose to resign, giving two weeks’ notice, but firings have occurred.

All who hold jobs are paid in Keybucks, the school currency. Children who perform exceptionally well are given pay increases. Every child who successfully holds a job, and the vast majority do, gets the satisfaction of a job well done and feels a shared responsibility for the smooth working of the school. Friday, pay day, gives everyone a sense of accomplishment.

Many younger students are not mature enough to accept the responsibility of individual jobs, but this does not mean that they cannot participate in our economic system. Group jobs are assigned to the kindergarten, first, and second graders, for which the entire class is paid in a lump sum to be divided among the students by the teacher. Examples of such group jobs are picking up litter on certain areas of the playground or weeding a portion of the sandbox area. Third grade is the transition year in which most students undertake individual jobs but there is a class job as well of managing the lost and found.

Fourth, fifth and sixth graders are all invited to have individual jobs, although theses grades also have group or class jobs. The fourth grade runs the bookstore which is stocked with books and records recycled by students, parents and friends. Every other Friday, the books are set out on tables to allow for easy browsing while the fourth graders circulate to encourage sales and manage the cash register. Books are priced differently for younger and older students since the latter have access to more Keybucks. There are periodic sales, and at Christmas there was a special gift-wrapping service as well. The students earn a percentage of the profits from book store sales.

The fifth grade runs the general store. As with the bookstore, store items are donated by Keys community members. The store alternates Fridays with the bookstore and sells virtually anything except books and records, although the most common items are toys, stuffed animals, pens and pencils, stickers, etc. Students are paid according to their actual work time at various tasks such as store management, sales and pricing.

The sixth grade runs the school bank. All students who wish to do so may open a checking account with the bank. The bank president is usually the highest paid student in the entire system. He or she keeps deposit records and the bank’s tellers make detailed transaction records of all withdrawals and deposits. The bank is open for check cashing and other business every Friday afternoon.

Children in fourth through sixth grade are encouraged to form corporations under the supervision of the fifth-grade teacher. Several successful businesses include a paper pad corporation, a button corporation, a barrette and hair decoration corporation, and a balloon corporation which will deliver inflated balloons and cards for special occasions. The paper pad corporation came into being when someone donated a large supply of scrap paper to the school. With the purchase of a large bottle of pad glue and a little entrepreneurial imagination in decorating the paper, the pad company was born. The button corporation uses a button making machine to manufacture custom laminated buttons using photographs or hand made designs. The corporations rent space in the store at a rate tied to their profits.

Students who wish to spend their Keybucks can do so in a variety of way. In addition to the bookstore, the general store and the various corporations, children may purchase off campus field trips. For 20-25 Keybucks, students have gone on all day field trips to such places as the Exploratorium, Alcatraz, and other places of educational interest. There are shorter and less expensive lunchtime field trips often to places where parents work. Another popular way to spend Keybucks is for admission to a lunchtime movie or video tape showing or during free time to use the games available on the computers.

Children carry out their job duties during the regular school day. Certain jobs held by children in the older grades may require absence from the regular classroom activities. An example would be kindergarten aides who help out with math and reading activities. Many students do their jobs at the end of the day as well, although most children are encouraged to do their jobs during lunch and recess time.


This section describes the implementation process. A question response format is used to highlight the most important aspects of the program.

What role are the teachers expected to play?

The success of the project rests on the teachers’ willingness to be involved and work together. The following is a list of their major responsibilities:

  • to create or make available jobs.
  • to hire, supervise and pay students for jobs.
  • to encourage students to look for jobs: allow class time for making applications.
  • to explain how the bank, store, corporations etc. work.
  • to help students remember jobs, find time to do them etc.
  • to encourage students to be creative with the system, e.g. Develop new ways to earn money, and
  • to volunteer support when needed.

Some teachers must be willing to work with their classes in running the Bookstore, the Store, and the Bank.

What kind of jobs are appropriate?

The types of jobs offered to students depends on which staff members are employers (the principal and office secretary have different jobs to offer from teachers). The opportunities afforded by the school plant, and the willingness of the staff to give students real responsibility. The following are broad categories useful in generating job possibilities (see Appendix D for a listing of jobs we have offered).

Teacher or Office Assistants: These jobs range from running dittos, delivering messages, correcting papers, or filing to more responsible jobs like aiding in the kindergarten classrooms or tutoring younger children.

Care of School Grounds and Property: These jobs may include raking leaves, cleaning picnic tables, picking up litter, and looking after certain pieces of athletic equipment at recess time.

Services to the Community: Many jobs can be created by developing services that students provide to the community. For example, the bank, the store and the bookstore all hire a number of students to run their organization. A newspaper hires editors and reporters: the computer room has a manager to keep order and bill students when they use the computer during free time. We even have a school historian who announces daily what important events have occurred on that day.

Brainstorming as a staff is often the best way to create jobs: it is amazing how many possibilities there are. Some jobs are “all class jobs” for the younger grades. Individual jobs are reserved for the older group of children in the school.

What are the first steps in getting started?

  1. Identify what grades will participate as a whole class and what grades will allow individual jobs. This will give an indication of the total number of jobs that will need to be available.
  2. Develop a list of jobs and job descriptions and determine the salary for each. Our rule of thumb was one Keybuck for 15 minutes of work although jobs with greater responsibility or “grungier” ones were paid at more than this rate.
  3. Publish these job openings and make copies available to all students and encourage them to discuss them with their parents. This is a good moment to include a cover letter to parents explaining the purposes of the program.
  4. Set a deadline by which job applications are due to the respective employers. Encourage students to apply for more than one job. Some jobs are extremely popular. Students can be disappointed if they don’t have a number of options.
  5. At a faculty meeting, allocate jobs so that everyone who has applied gets a job and so that staff feel they have hired students capable of doing the job.
  6. Students and employers sign contracts in duplicate. The contract specifies the job responsibilities, the salary and the period of the contract. This signing lends an air of seriousness to the process of having a job.
  7. Generate ways for students to spend their money. Initially, it was much easier for students to earn money than spend it (see Appendix for a list of ways we have found for students to spend Keybucks).
  8. Have fun: we found students were very excited about the whole process.

Once the program is under way, how much time does it take?

For individual students, the time involved depends on the job. Most students are encouraged to do their jobs before or after school or during recess times. In a few cases, when they are aiding in other classes, they may need to be excused from their regular class. This is an option you may or may not wish to allow students.

We set aside the last hour of Friday afternoon as community time” students are paid +then; the Bank is open as is either the store or the bookstore. After the initial effort of helping students find jobs and learn how to do them, most of the time demands on teachers are limited to Friday afternoons. If things are going well and students are remembering to do their jobs, the system should not demand a great deal of teacher time.

How does the program meet the needs of younger as well as older students?

Children in younger grades, for us, kindergarten, first and second, hold jobs as a whole class and a salary is paid to the class as a whole. The teacher helps the students decide how they should spend their money. As the year progresses, many younger children decide to seek out jobs. Older students may hold one or more jobs depending on their interest. Those who have proved to be more responsible in past jobs tend to receive the more demanding jobs. Because there are a variety of jobs offered, almost everyone can find something that suits his or her talents and interests. Our system is biased in favor of “growing older”. Older students usually have the first choice of jobs and often higher paying ones.

What is the “money”?

We designed our own currency, Keybucks, which we printed (xeroxed) in units of ones, fives, and tens. Lots of combinations are possible. See Appendix E for a sample sheet of our script.

What is the parents’ reaction to this project?

At the inception of this project, a letter was sent to all parents detailing its purposes and what would be expected of the students. We set aside time at our “Back to School” night in the beginning of the year to discuss the program and answer any questions the parents might have. Almost without exception, they have been extremely supportive and excited and many of them now see it as integral part of our curriculum. We encourage parents to give us feedback on how their child feels about his/her job. Occasionally if a child does not initially apply for a job but is eager to have one, parents can be helpful in discovering this. No child though is forced to participate and there are many levels of participation. Some students may hold two or three jobs.

How much does it cost to implement this program?

The costs can be minimal. Obviously, there are small costs associated with dittoing job announcements and application forms and printing the script. The Store and the Bookstore, for the most part is run on recycled items that students bring from home. Parents often welcome the opportunity to have a positive use for cast off toys and books. Helping corporations get started may take some real money since materials are needed for students to use in manufacturing goods. Bake sales or hot dog lunches at the beginning of the year help raise these monies.

Unfounded Concerns

As with any new program we had doubts about whether it would have the impact we desired. The following are a list of some of the concerns we had which never materialized:

  1. Students would become overly mercenary and venal, unwilling to do anything without being paid. This has happened upon occasion but for the most part, the effect of the system has been quite the opposite. Students feel more a part of the school: through their jobs. They have developed a sense of pride that in fact encourages voluntary participation and a willingness to help out as needed.
  2. Students would not be motivated to participate. With a few exceptions this has not been the case. Some students are not interested and are not required to join in, but for the most part, the opportunity to earn and spend one’s very own money has been a very rewarding experience.
  3. Keybucks would be stolen – an added hassle and disappointment. This has happened upon occasion but has often led to some valuable insights and discussions with students. In one case, a student promised others more money if they would give him a certain amount now. The scam proved to be a very educational experience for all. Also, the Keybucks are not so valuable that they tend to be stolen. Either students feel they are able to earn enough to satisfy their needs or there is not that much in value to buy to warrant stealing Keybucks. The Bank, however, exists to discourage any theft.

Interestingly, we have found that the use of Keybucks as fines and other negative rewards has not been very effective. Library fines, originally due in Keybucks, now must be paid in hard currency. We still use fines for balls left on the playground but do not fine in other areas: eg. For tardiness, messy desks, or inappropriate behavior.


We have been surprised and delighted by student responses to participation in this economic system. We have seen students grow from forgetful employees to very responsible ones, this change has been reflected in their academic work as well. Older children enjoy buying things for younger ones who have less money, or they will take them to a recess time movie. Students recognize that they are spenders and want to learn to be savers so they have enough money for some future field trip.

One of the most important benefits of the system, we feel, is the sense of whole school awareness and pride that it develops. All grades participate and often “across grade” corporations are formed. There is an important sense of everyone belonging to the same process. Regardless of age, students can discuss how many Keybucks they have and how they plan to spend them.

If you are interested in learning about this program, please contact us:

Keys School
2890 Middlefield Rd.
Palo Alto. CA. 94306

JOBS: Some Examples

  • Deliver messages from the office
  • Aid in reading or math in the kindergarten
  • Put down chairs in kindergarten before school
  • Help kindergarten teacher sort student work into folders
  • Run dittos
  • Wash picnic tables
  • Feed the school cat
  • Serve as school receptionist when office staff is not available
  • Help teachers correct papers
  • Water plants
  • Wash desks
  • School historian
  • Manage the white paper recycling project
  • Be in charge of certain bulletin boards
  • Put out and take in the tether balls
  • Be in charge of certain pieces of athletic equipment
  • Stuff the envelopes that go home every Wednesday
  • Post school absences
  • Aid in art, science, music and p.e. classes
  • Lost and found monitor
  • Dismissal monitor – supervise younger children as they leave
  • Take and record the temperature each day
  • Editors and reporters on the newspaper
  • Library aid-shelving books and dusting
  • Tutors
  • Aluminum and tin can recycle manager
  • Rake leaves
  • Class Jobs
  • Pick up litter on certain parts of the playground
  • Manage lost and found
  • Weed sandbox areas
  • Ways to Spend Keybucks
  • The General Store
  • The Bookstore
  • Fieldtrips – lunchtime to all day
  • Lunch time films
  • Popcorn sales
  • Computer room – free time games
  • Extra tickets to the California Young People’s Theater
  • Special places on school grounds to eat lunch
  • Candygrams at Valentines
  • Ads in Newspaper

Photo by author.

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David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.