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Cleveland Micro Society Program Brings "Real Life" To Learning

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CLEVELAND, Oklahoma -

The Cleveland School District is bringing the "real world" into classrooms to better prepare students for life after graduation.

Three days of each week, Cleveland middle school students get to leave class for about an hour to run a little city called Tiger Valley.

“The kids have really enjoyed, they are learning so many life skills. They don't even realize some of the things they're learning,” Tiger Valley Coordinator Shelly Buller said.

It's part of a national program called Micro Society where the school brings real life to learning. Cleveland is one of only three schools in Oklahoma to offer Micro Society. 

“It gives them a way to kind of have a taste of what the real world actually is...instead of what they might think of it in their mind,” 8th Grader Ben Ward said.

Tiger Valley is run by the students. There's a government system - complete with IRS, police officers and courtrooms.

“I'm the criminal judge,” Ward said. 

The school's library is the bank, the cafeteria is the marketplace where students can shop and classrooms transform into businesses. Tiger Valley has between 50 and 60 businesses, once again, the kids are in charge of it all.            

“They go through hiring and firing. They have to have a payroll, they write checks,” Buller said.

Cleveland was given the Micro Society Rookie of the Year award in 2016, but at the start of the new school year, the district was faced with some tough decisions.

“With the shrinking budgets that we have with schools, we had to make decisions. Do you we cut this program, do we eliminate this,” Superintendent Aaron Espolt said. “And we've all met and found that this a priority. This is something that we need to keep in the school. Not only for the school district but for the community.”

It costs between 8 and 9 thousand dollars to operate the marketplace each year, most of that goes toward supplies so the young entrepreneurs can run their businesses. 

Cleveland’s Chamber of Commerce pays for the program, because in the end, it helps the town, too. 

Espolt says over the past 5 years less than 35-percent of students in the district went on to get a higher education, the rest went straight into the work force.

The superintendent says it’s vital to make sure the students understand how life after graduation works.

“Life's more than just going and getting a job and just holding a paycheck...it's being accountable. It's understanding what's involved in those things,” Espolt said.

That's exactly what Tiger Valley aims to teach -- and seems the students are really picking on those life lessons.

“It just kind of opened my eyes to what I was going to be able to expect with... I have to get a real job,” Ben said. 

Cleveland students will spend several weeks after spring break working on paying taxes and buying or selling businesses for next school year. 

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