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CEEE’s Meaningful Economics competition showcases economic, financial and entrepreneurial skills
The days of the ubiquitous pink flamingo lawn ornament may be numbered.
That’s if a group of entrepreneurial third graders from Delaware’s New Castle and Sussex counties have their way. These students presented their new lawn ornament ideas with names such as Sweet Sunshine, Wetty the Penguin and Dolphin Rocker 2,000x, during the recent 31st annual Meaningful Economics (ME*) Competition.
They were part of more than 360 students from the third, fourth and fifth grades in 19 different schools statewide who participated in the competition, which was hosted by the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, in partnership with the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute (DFLI).
The competition took place over four days and recognized students for their economic, personal finance and entrepreneurship prowess.
“The ME* Competition gives students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom and to showcase many critical 21st century skills that employers look for in new hires: teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking,” said Carlos Asarta, CEEE director and UD associate professor of economics.
During the course of the competition, students competed in three areas customized for each grade level: a production activity, a written test on financial and economic knowledge and a problem solving activity. Roughly 40 student teams of four presented their ideas to a panel of judges made up of volunteers from Delaware’s banking community, with first through fourth place taking home prize ribbons.
Students from MOT Charter School, Downes Elementary School, Brandywine Springs School and John M. Clayton Elementary School were among the competition’s top winners.
“The kids are really inspiring with the ideas they come up with during their presentations,” said volunteer judge Byran Perrera, senior associate-CSCM business risk at Discover Financial Services. “This event is really important for young people in today’s economy, for whom critical thinking and problem solving skills are necessary.”
The event also brings the community together, said Bonnie Meszaros, associate director of CEEE and assistant professor of economics, who oversaw the event.
“Our goal is to make economics relatable,” Meszaros said. “Many see it as being staid and difficult, but economics is applicable to work happening in the classroom and everyday skills.”
The ME* Competition grew out of a conversation with Jim O’Neill, UD professor emeritus, Meszaros, Doris Morris, former teacher at Warner Elementary School, and Ronni Cohen, former teacher and now head of the DFLI, to change the way economics was taught in elementary school and make it fun.
“In 1972, Doris, Bonnie and I – we were all elementary school teachers at the time – were taking an economics course with Jim at UD. Doris suggested that some sort of competition could help teach economics to elementary school children,” Cohen said. “She came up with the concept and Jim supported us. Today, Bonnie, Jim and now Carlos are here to help teachers and develop programs that fill gaps in the classroom.”
Teachers, some of whom participated in the competition when they were students, said that they want their students to participate because they find ME* to be the culmination of all of the yearlong activities CEEE provides to help enhance classroom learning.
“I am excited to be attending this year, as is my co-teacher and co-coach who participated in this competition when he was a student,” said Mary (Mimi) Corcoran, who teaches fourth grade inclusion at Bunker Hill Elementary. “My students in third, fourth and fifth grade, who also participate in CEEE’s Mini-Society, prepared for the competition by practicing the different types of tasks they were going to do. It’s a great way to get kids excited about learning economics.”
For all students, the competition began with the production activity. Teams were required to follow directions to produce standard items, which encouraged students to plan, specialize and manage resources (including time and human capital). For the third graders, student teams worked together in a frenzied fashion to produce 10 thank you cards for Adopt a Family in 30 minutes. They were judged for accuracy, quality and quantity completed. The students then participated in a written test to review economic and personal finance knowledge.
An entrepreneurial problem-solving activity closed out the day, during which teams designed a new product or service that addressed a standard need. For third graders, it was to replace the lowly flamingo with a new summer lawn ornament.
“The kids learn a lot about teamwork, working with each other. Cooperation has a lot to do with it as they are a team of four,” said May B. Leasure Elementary School’s advanced academic teacher, Timothy Werbrich. “The test allows them to learn the nuts and bolts of economics and it gets more sophisticated as it goes through fifth grade.
“In the production phase, they really learn how to be more efficient. And with the commercial, or problem solving phase they learn how to sell something,” Werbrich continued. “My third graders have never been in a competition so they get more confident being in front of adults. They love being out there and showing people they can do this kind of thing.”
The volunteer judges from Bank of America, Discover and Capital One helped the students throughout the first day of competition and chose the winners.
“Discover is really committed to the Delaware community. Giving back in a meaningful way is important to me and important to the company,” Perrera said. “They provide employees the opportunity to volunteer with events they are passionate about.” For many, that focus is financial literacy.
“It would be impossible to produce the competition without the help of our sponsors –Bank of America and Discover – and without the dozens of volunteers (more than 50 this year) that assist us every year,” Asarta said. “In addition to those from our sponsoring organizations, representatives from Adopt-a-Family, Fulton Bank, Sussex County government and Wells Fargo graciously volunteered as judges this year, as did Delaware Bank Commissioner Robert Glen.”
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