A line is stretching out the door, where a security guard is telling customers to tuck in their shirts while they wait to get into the bank. Inside, four tellers are frantically counting orange and purple money, a portrait of a wild mustang appearing where Andrew Jackson or George Washington would usually be.
“Is your check signed?” a teller asks a customer who has waited several minutes to finally get to the front of the line.
The customer shakes his head.
“Then you have to go back and get it signed,” the teller insists. “We don’t take unsigned checks.”
And the frustrated bank customer stomps angrily out the door.
But a lesson has been learned, an experience gained. Next time, he’ll look at his paycheck before rushing to the bank.
And that’s the whole point of “Monrovia,” a sort of large-scale simulation that is giving students a taste of real life, at Monroe Demonstration School in north Tulsa.
Launched four years ago, Monrovia is a city unto itself, complete with an elected mayor and city council, a police force in the form of yellow-shirted “peacekeepers,” and an array of businesses, including a sweet little restaurant called Cake Me Away.
Student entrepreneurs get loans from the bank and have to pay them back with interest while also paying rent, taxes and salaries — just like real businesses. And like real businesses, some will go bankrupt.
“The beauty of a micro society,” said Principal Kiana Smith, “is to let them fail.”
From failure comes experience. And with experience comes learning, she said.
“At first, they all want to spend, spend, spend. Spend every dollar they have,” Smith explained. “Then they realize, ‘Wait a minute: I have to pay taxes. I have to pay rent. I have to repay a loan.’ And I say, ‘Yes, welcome to the real world.’ ”
Monrovia goes into motion for the last hour of every school day, with sixth- through eighth-grade students choosing where to work and — on their days off — where to spend their Monrovian dollars.
A chocolate waffle topped with ice cream at Cake Me Away costs $5, or one-third of a typical student’s weekly paycheck. Other student-run ventures include a Monrovia Sweets ice cream shop, a movie theater with snack bar, and Monrovian Multiples, where students can buy custom-decorated notebooks and other supplies.
Monrovia is partly a civics lesson, with students running for election, going to court to settle disputes and paying taxes — $3 from every paycheck. But it also offers a lot of practical experience, with students having to show up for work on time and keep track of their money while deciding how much to spend and how much to save.
“I’m learning how to manage my money and my time,” said 13-year-old Mayor Casha Hall. “And I’m learning how to talk to people and represent myself.”
In her second term as mayor, Hall walks from business to business to meet students and listen to their complaints, most of them involving high taxes or school uniforms.
Under her leadership, the Monrovia City Council authorized additional free-dress days for students — but only if they were earning A’s and B’s.
“We thought it was important to set that standard,” Hall said, “and teach that kind of responsibility.”