WHAT IS FIERY HILLS?
Complete with its own currency, laws, and economy, Fiery Hills Conglomerate, Inc. is the work/life community within the scholar population at E. A. Young Academy. In 2012, scholars worked together to create this miniature society, and today, every scholar at Young, from our kindergarteners to our seniors, is a citizen and employee of Fiery Hills. Our scholars blend their school life with their job fulfillment daily and spotlight small business ideas twice a year.
Near the beginning of every school year, Fiery Hills Conglomerate holds a job fair to fill the multitude of available positions. Examples include: Supply Clerk, Zoologist (for our many class pets), Botanist, Yearbook Staff, Advertising Staff, Diplomats, Safety and Security Officers, Waste Management, Sanitation Crew, Conservation Crew, Printing and Engraving, Ambassador, Facilities Manager, Public Works Manager, Tech Support, Banker, Insurance agents, IRS agents and Wildlife Manager. Prior to the job fair, scholars are provided a list of available positions and overview of the responsibilities for that position.
Scholars then have the opportunity to research the jobs further, tailor their resume, and prepare for their interviews. On the day of the Job Fair, the scholars are interviewed by staff and student department heads, who collaborate to make the departmental hiring decisions. Scholars are paid in the school’s currency, The Hawkeye, which is also used to buy items from each other’s businesses on Market Days and can be used to pay fines, such as coming to school without a charged laptop. The Hawkeye (HE) was created after researching economic systems from around the world and applying a democratic process to select the winning currency concept - a triangular bill with a minimum denomination of 3. They then created designs for bills of 3HE, 27HE and 81HE. Scholars are also subject to the Fiery Hills Income Tax. The tax was initially modeled after the US system, but scholars quickly learned that this seemingly simple concept was more complex than first thought and would require some tweaking. Since the monetary system they designed does not currently allow for values less than 3HE, a percentage-based tax calculation was not feasible. And so, after a great deal of head-scratching, the scholars and math faculty devised a sliding scale system utilizing an increment divisible by 3.
On semi-annual Market Days, scholars each create a business and buy and sell goods and services to each other using their hard earned Hawkeyes. To prepare, they create business plans, pay for and design ads and commercials, rent space, hire employees (so they can keep their businesses open while they go shop for themselves), consider taking business partners to share expenses (but also revenue), and pay taxes. The booths are typical of what you might see at a craft fair, from handmade soaps and jewelry to henna tattoos, custom prints, handcrafted gifts, food items, and even their own version of a midway with nerf gun and archery ranges.
WHAT MAKES FIERY HILLS UNIQUE AND INNOVATIVE?
As a small school, we really do rely on the students to do their jobs. From lunch room clean up to after school dismissal, students help keep the school running efficiently. The younger scholars apprentice with the older scholars and take their roles very seriously. The experience is able to extend various classroom lessons to concepts readily understood by gifted students, even our youngest ones. Economic concepts are taught as jobs are designed and carried out throughout the school day. On a biweekly basis, the Banking and Payroll Departments set up the Fiery Hills Bank & Trust in the Gym to administer Payday. On Payday, scholars receive their paychecks and are able to deposit that check into their bank account, withdraw Hawkeyes, check their balance, and complete other typical banking activities. Paydays provide further lessons in financial responsibility and banking principles, and expose the scholars to a dose of income tax. Scholars also have the option to purchase insurance policies to cover mock-catastrophic events (orchestrated by the faculty), which can have a significant impact on the student’s bank accounts if they are not adequately insured!
WHY IS FIERY HILLS IMPORTANT?
E. A. Young scholars don’t just go to school; they are the school. Scholars take their roles very seriously and know the impact that one person can have on the community. Fiery Hills is designed to empower E. A. Young Academy’s scholars to take an active role in their own education by creating a relevant learning experience. By providing multiple opportunities for all scholars to succeed both as individuals and as a group, Fiery Hills fosters an environment where students feel a sense of belonging and responsibility for each other and their community. The entrepreneurial spirit lit within Fiery Hills has expanded to a middle school girls' business "Aphelion" whose mission is to raise money through the sales of handmade jewelry and other unique items to send to third world countries where girls lack access to education. The excitement of Fiery Hills has also expanded to the families of EAYA as well as others who have attended professional development sessions at TAGT and at EAYA.
HOW WE MEASURE SUCCESS
By engaging in Fiery Hills, the scholars gain a deeper understanding of the connections between the classroom and real life skills, including financial literacy, economic conventions, and civic & governmental principles. As in real life, the success of the society depends upon the productivity of the scholars, and so they learn to work as producers, consumers, legislators, bankers, managers, entrepreneurs, and many other roles.
Their participation in Market Day is a creative outlet that has become a very popular community event as well. The items sold so closely resembled handmade gifts that one would normally see in a community craft fair, that the parents quickly wanted in on the action. Beginning in 2014, parents that logged volunteer hours with the school were able to trade those hours in for their own Hawkeyes, so they too could shop at Market Day. Adults attending without earned Hawkeyes, could purchase their own at an exchange rate of $1 for 3 HEs, thus providing some fundraising for the school as well.
UTILIZING BEST PRACTICES IN GIFTED EDUCATION
Gifted students need to feel connected to their community and to feel in charge of their own destinies. They have a strong need for extension learning activities and understanding how to apply classroom lessons to their own personal lives. In many instances, the skills necessary to run the society are learned “on the job” as well as in the classroom. Many jobs also require coming in before or after school hours on a regular basis, allowing scholars to take ownership of their work. Scholars participate in business and departmental meetings, develop business plans, integrate technology, and provide ideas for products or services in their businesses leading to the overall success of the society and their personal businesses.
OUTCOMES OF THIS EFFORT
The extremely positive interaction of our oldest to our youngest students is most evident through Fiery Hills. Our older students mentor our younger students, which allows the work ethic of both to rise. During Market Day, scholars honor each other’s creativity by paying hard earned Hawkeyes for crafts of varying levels of ability, but all created with a high degree of effort and passion. In no other way could so many kids of all different ages integrate so seamlessly in one setting, working towards one common goal: making decisions that are best for Fiery Hills, and ultimately, the school that they care about so intensely.
MEETING THE NEEDS OF GIFTED SCHOLARS IN COGNITIVE AND AFFECTIVE DOMAINS
The scholars’ daily jobs and ability to maintain financial stability (both for themselves and for the society as a whole) require them to apply their reading, writing, math, art, social studies and science skills, along with a good dose of critical thinking. Data from market days are used within the classrooms from kindergarten (calculating profit and loss) to high school (using submitted data across the school to complete regression analysis to determine the factor that has the greatest impact on profit). The positions also require day-to-day commitments which can often challenge some of our gifted individuals. Our scholars learn that "work" may include some repetitive yet rewarding tasks which we hope will carry over into adulthood. Many of the NAGC gifted programming standards are exemplified through this program - particularly those including Self-Understanding (1.1, 1.2, 1.3), Cognitive and Affective Growth (1.8), Personal Competence (4.1), Social Competence (4.2), Leadership (4.3), Communication Competence (4.5), and Collaboration (5.3). The mentorships amidst the scholars are incredible. For example, a sixth grade zoologist has a manager who is a mature eighth grade student (most managers, however, are high school age) and an apprentice who is a second grade student. These relationships are crucial for developing leadership skills as well as a sense of community throughout our school.