MISSION VIEJO : Kids Taste Life in the Real World

From the minute they opened their personalized balloon business, third-graders Alex Lorton and Kate Plost were bombarded with sales from their classmates.

"A lot of people like balloons," said Alex, summing up the appeal of her business, aside from a rock-bottom sale price.

In another classroom nearby, second-grader Joey Kemp was busy selling plays on games brought from home, and songs on a self-styled karaoke machine.

"It's really popular," the Mission Viejo youngster said of his entertainment business. "Let me show you how rich I am," he added, pulling out a wad of brightly colored play money bearing the official stamp of the "Newhart Summer School Bank."

Since summer school started about a month ago, Newhart School in Mission Viejo has been transformed into "Newhart Business Land."

More than 300 South County children in grades one through six have been participating in the school's "Young Entrepreneurs" theme program for the summer session, learning about careers and city government, as well as the traditional academic skills they will need to succeed in the business world.

Last week, the school held an open house, allowing students to buy and sell the products they have developed in their classes, from snacks and handmade kites to earrings and finger skateboards.

On Wednesday, the last day of summer school, a campus trade fair will be held as a grand finale.

To kick off the 20-day program earlier this month, 17-year-old entrepreneur and author Daryl Bernstein visited the campus, talking to students about his best-selling book on business ideas for kids, titled "Better Than a Lemonade Stand."

Summer school Principal Daryle Lynn Cornelison said the theme has been a hit among students and is designed to help them make connections between the skills they are learning in class and the real world of business.

For example, students have worked on math by exchanging play money, estimating production costs, analyzing profit and loss statements, writing checks and balancing budgets. As for language arts, students have been reading and writing business letters, designing advertising layouts, keeping journals and writing resumes.

"We've had a tremendous amount of activities in a short period of time," Cornelison said. "The business community has also been very responsive."

Guest speakers from the local business community have been a big part of the summer program, and students even had a career day where they dressed up as their occupation.

"It's important to acquaint them with career goals," said Pam Dase, a school official who helped develop the program.

Students also received salaries for coming to class--which were set up as mini-cities--and earned Newhart dollars for good behavior. On the other hand, they could be fined for misbehavior.

All seven elementary summer schools in the Capistrano Unified School District also offered theme programs this summer, ranging from "Class Act: Creativity Learning + Artistic Sharing = Success" at Bergeson Elementary to "Summer Institute of the Arts and Technology" at San Juan Elementary.

As part of the summer school program, parents could choose any of the theme programs for their children.

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