MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Like any good mayor, Rosalinda Macario Rivera always knows what’s happening in her town.

“I have to watch everyone at the same time,” she says, darting around her City Hall office and her town attending to issues both logistical and financial.

And if you work for her, don’t think for a minute the smile that covers half her face means you’re off the hook for not doing your job.

“I know not all of you are on break,” she said with a scolding finger in the direction of a few lollygagging employees.

Being in charge is a lot of responsibility, 11-year-old Rosalinda, a sixth-grader at Our Lady of Sorrows Elementary School, acknowledges.

But so is nearly every job in non-profit Junior Achievement’s simulated city, JA BizTown.

The five-hour simulation is the culmination of weeks of classroom work for students, who then take a field trip to Junior Achievement’s Downtown Memphis facility.

Life-size, fully equipped storefronts from 15 local businesses like FedEx, First Tennessee, and the Memphis Grizzlies line the sides of the main town center. City Hall occupies the back corner, complete with a voting booth and desk for the mayor.

Before they come, students draft a resume and apply for jobs, including the owner, and chief financial officer of each business, or run for an elected position. When they arrive, the execute their roles and business plans, selling their goods and services to classmates in the hopes of repaying the bank loan that allowed them to open up shop.

“It’s all about economic education, work readiness and financial literacy,” Junior Achievement President and CEO Larry Colbert said.

Program manager Alison Welch called it “being an adult for a day.”

“They experience careers they might not know of,” she said.

The program costs schools $30 per student. Scholarships and sponsorships offset some costs for schools with high populations of low-income students, but Colbert said it’s not enough.

“It’s the kids who need this program the most who are not able to participate,” he said.

About 40 schools visit the facility each year.

Volunteers, usually parents at the school, help students in each shop run their business. If a school doesn’t have enough parents able to help, Junior Achievement calls on one of its corporate partners.

Amy Grow, International Paper’s manager of community engagement and global citizenship, said her company always has volunteers at the ready, whether it’s helping at their own employer’s storefront or Chick-fil-A’s.

Within the International Paper store, students see the full life cycle of making and selling paper.

“It’s a dynamic space and we continually update it to be representative of International Paper today,” Grow said.

And in a city like Memphis, where workforce growth is always a goal, Grow said the BizTown experience always highlights the talent and energy already here.

“It’s never too early to harness that,” she said.

Our Lady of Sorrows parent Shannon Dennis was busy inside the Orgill Hardware booth helping her son, CEO Landon Brown, and CFO Dixie Crisel.

Dennis walked fourth-grader Dixie through her product list, deciding how much each item should cost and calculating the profits Orgill would make as a result.

“We’re actually trying to teach them adult fundamentals,” Dennis said.

An hour into the exercise, her son had gone to Baptist Healthcare’s booth to pick up insurance cards and gym memberships for his employees, and Dennis felt good about her job performance so far.

“I’m not fired yet,” she said.

Patrolling the town was sixth-grader Jonathan Vazquez, clutching a clipboard and dressed in a police uniform jacket that draped to his knees.

Jonathan had the important duty of making sure no one walked on the grass in the middle of the town — a specific violation of town code, and worthy of a ticket. And a ticket means a trip to court, pleading your case in front of a judge and paying a fine.

But Jonathan is a patient officer, and an understanding one. He took the initiative of instituting a policy of progressive reprimands.

“They might have forgot that you’re not supposed to step on the grass,” he said, justifying the warnings he gives before issuing a ticket.

“I’m pretty good with people,” Jonathan said. “I talk to people. I’m a pretty nice person.”

Back in her office after an excursion surveying her land, mayor Rosalinda was proud of her town.

“It’s full of happy workers,” she said.


Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com