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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Real-life learning comes alive at Butler’s Mining Town

Oct 01, 2022 06:11PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Butler Elementary’s fourth-graders may be eagerly awaiting the end of the school year, seven months away.

They know it’s been a tradition, for eight years now, that once end-of-year testing is completed in May, they get to participate in Mining Town.

It’s a culminating activity that allows small groups of fourth-graders to come up with a business, write a business plan and hold a booth at Mining Town, said Tarryn Heath, who was watching more than 100 students last spring interact with different services and businesses  

“We have everything from a bakery to a pet shop, from a yoga studio to various amusement activities,” she said. “The goal is for this modern-day mining town to learn how it was back then, how people came together and worked together to provide services and goods for one another.”

Ellie Palmer, who with three of her classmates, created a nail service business, providing nail painting for their peers, teachers and even Principal Jeff Nalwalker.

“We thought it would be fun to design and paint nails, and we’re all good at it so it was a good fit,” she said. “It’s fun to see everyone’s ideas become businesses. I like learning about everyone’s talents and deciding how I should spend my money.”

Heath said that the students take turns holding down their business and being a townsperson, who has $40 in Central Mining Company cash to spend. The town bank also tracks how much the businesses make during the activity.

“There’s a lot of learning and practicing math skills during this and students are absorbing some marketing by coming up with a business plan and advertising their products and services,” Heath said.

While it was Heath’s first year helping with Mining Town, Parys Lightel has overseen it for eight years at Butler after being part of it for four years at Sunrise Elementary.

“It was my colleague’s idea at Sunrise, but it has evolved every year with new ideas and what we’re able to do with the number of kids,” she said. “It’s always fun and they’re always learning.”

The name, Mining Town, comes from the fourth-grade study of the people of Utah, where students learn about Native Americans, the transcontinental railroad bringing immigrants, and the mining boom in Park City and Alta.

Nalwalker said that students are not only learning their social studies curriculum, but also how to build a budget and track expenses and profits, and learn about supply and demand.

“The teachers always give me a little bit of money, so I go in and inject a little stimulus into their economy,” he said. “I generally pick a few things to do; this year, I picked something more outrageous and colored my hair and had my fingernails painted. The kids get a kick out of it and it’s a fun way I can be there and involved with them. I really appreciate the creativity of our teachers who take the time to make the learning fun and meaningful and have it come alive.”

Lightel agreed that while the principles are tied to the fourth-grade core curriculum, students like it because it brings in real-life applications.

“They like tracking how much money they make, or how they can market their product and get a sale,” she said. “It works well as an introduction to prepare them for (Junior Achievement) biz town in fifth grade. Although really, it’s learning that comes to life and it’s something they will remember more than a worksheet.”