KNIGHT NATION — It’s mid-afternoon at Knight Nation, a small country off of 78th Street in Vancouver. And despite its apparent isolation, this nation is thriving.
So unfolds a scene with all the chaos of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and the endearing qualities of an elementary school bake sale. Children call out the names of their wares, trying to drum up business from passers-by. It’s an economy heavily reliant on glue sticks, tempera paint and nail polish borrowed from mom’s cupboard.
“Get your slime here!”
“Would you like your nails painted?”
This is a snippet of King’s Way Christian Schools’ “MicroSociety” curriculum, which puts students in charge of running a country within their school. There’s an elected president and senators, a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, a bank, manufacturing companies and a newspaper.
Students earn Knight Nation money for coming to school and working at student-run businesses. They manufacture products to sell in 42-student-run businesses. They pay rent on their desks, and a flat 25 percent income tax. Students who run down the hall may receive tickets from their badge-wearing peers, who work as police officers. Students who commit more serious infractions may face a trial by jury. Later, a post office might open, or a church. A job board advertises positions in the school’s Census Bureau, noting a love of data among its requirements.
“It’s free enterprise at its best,” said Kim O’Neal, a former fifth-grade teacher who is now the school’s full time MicroSociety coordinator.
While students attend their regular classes — English, math, science — throughout the day, those lessons come alive every afternoon when it’s a new MicroSociety period. Math classes help students — citizens, as they’re called during MicroSociety — balance budgets for their businesses. They apply for business loans, writing to persuade the bank to lend them money. They researched history at the beginning of the year to determine what form of government might best suit them. Should they have a king? A dictator? A president?
“They’re making real world connections to textbook scenarios,” O’Neal said.
But what happens if the students do decide to have a fascist society? What if there’s global economic collapse within the school? What if employees go on strike?
All that can happen — though O’Neal notes it hasn’t at King’s Way. That’s part of the point — to give students full agency over their experience, and watch the successes or consequences. According to a school summary of the curriculum, “the citizens are in charge of all aspects of their country with little facilitation from their teachers, allowing them to discover the ins and outs of creating and leading a productive society.”
Allison Hibbs, a first-grade teacher, called the curriculum an “engaging” and “hands-on” way to apply academic lessons. Her students are problem-solving and thinking critically about their learning, she said. She loves watching her young students building friendships with older students.
“They’re building confidence to advocate for themselves,” Hibbs said.
Economic uncertainty seems low for the citizens of Knight Nation. A long line awaited popcorn and sweet treats at the school’s bakery. A classroom is packed with students making mini volcanos.
Phebe Willson, owner of Princess Spa, oversees a group of girls painting nails and soaking feet in massage tubs. It’s $20 for a manicure, $25 for a pedicure.
Owning a business isn’t easy, Willson said. Sometimes employees fight, and they have to make sure there’s enough polish to keep up with demand.
“It can be kind of hard doing all the paperwork,” Willson said.
Sarah Layzell is an 8-year-old third-grader who works at the spa.
“I just have a talent to do nails,” she said, as she painted Harper Hansa’s nails a soft blue. Harper, a 7-year-old first-grader, is on a break from her job manufacturing friendship bracelets.
Luke Gomes is an 11-year-old fifth-grader and owner of a popular gym at Knight Nation where students pay to play soccer, basketball or take golf lessons. He’s also the first President of Knight Nation, with the concerns of his nearly 300 citizens in mind at all times.
(He’s too young, it should be noted, to have a Twitter account. The website’s guidelines require users to be 13 or older.)
Luke ran for president to make his family and God proud, he said. It was stressful, making posters and giving speeches, but when he heard he’d won the school-wide election last fall, he was thrilled. Since then, he and his Senate have been making and enforcing laws and setting a vision for the country in the year ahead.
“I knew it was going to be hard to do,” Gomes said. “I thought I could make it better with everyone’s cooperation.”