An Educational Playhouse


It’s Thursday at 11 a.m. and the head of Scripps Institution of Oceanography is hard at work. There’s just so much to do: a business plan to implement, a budget to iron out, and scientists who need research projects.

But the person in charge is not Scripps’ real director, Tony Haymet. It’s a fifth-grader named Holly, who took on the top job as part of BizTown, an indoor replica of San Diego that lets students be grown-ups for a day as they learn about managing money and running a company.

Located near San Diego’s Mission Valley, BizTown is a two-story, 10,000-square-foot model of a real working community. There’s a city hall, a newspaper, a bank, telephone and utility companies, a Jack in the Box – even an oceanographic institution.

Inside, San Diego’s fifth-grade students serve as elected officials, utility workers, journalists, cashiers and ocean scientists. They receive paychecks, deposit money in the bank, and make decisions about how to spend their money at other BizTown stores.

BizTown is a production of the non-profit Junior Achievement of San Diego and Imperial Counties, which has dedicated more than 50 years to teaching students financial literacy and the basics of business. San Diego’s version opened in 2007.

UC San Diego’s Scripps Oceanography became involved at the request of Bill Scripps, great-grandson of founder E.W. Scripps, after he toured BizTown with a friend while it was under construction. At that time, Junior Achievement was searching for a scientific organization to sponsor one of the storefronts.

“Of course it was just automatic. Scripps Oceanography has to be here,” Scripps recounted during a recent visit to BizTown. “I feel very lucky that we were the science institution that got a spot inside.”

Just like in the real world, students must apply for their job at BizTown’s Scripps Oceanography and ace an interview. This occurs during four weeks of preparatory classroom curriculum, during which students also establish a business plan for their company and set a budget.

Once at BizTown, students must work as a team to achieve their business goals. Scripps’ CEO takes out a bank loan, ensures the budget is followed and keeps employees on task. A visitor services representative leads tours through the storefront. A seismic researcher catalogs earthquakes through a live connection to the U.S. Geological Survey website.

A fifth grader named Matt, who attends Riverview Elementary in San Diego’s Lakeside community, worked as a shark researcher during a recent visit, and said he wanted the job as soon as he read about it. His duties included matching shark teeth to different species and selling them to guests.

“I really like sharks,” he gushed.

This is exactly what Junior Achievement hopes to accomplish at BizTown with sponsors such as Scripps Oceanography, said Marion Paul, executive vice president of the local Junior Achievement.

“Kids need to learn science, and they need to get excited about science careers,” Paul said. “This allows kids to see what it’s like in action. And they get it. You can see it in their eyes.”

-- Jessica Z. Crawford

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.