Students experience what it’s like to work in the real world at Commerce Plaza
Imagine a 10-year-old learning the ins and outs of managing a business, developing a leadership role or going home with the knowledge of how to write a check. At YES Community Counseling Center (YES CCC), several programs are offered to implement further learning in a fun and thriving environment. Commerce Plaza, Inc. is one of those programs and Jamie Bogenshutz, who serves as the executive director at YES CCC, says that it is an experience unlike any other.
“My role as it relates to the agency is to oversee the organization to make sure we are growing, are stable and are responding to the needs of the communities that we serve,” said Bogenshutz of YES CCC, which is located at 152 Center Lane in Levittown and also houses the Commerce Plaza building next door. “Commerce Plaza is a little different than what most of our programs focus on because it focuses on fifth-grade students and we work with the school districts to provide a program that teaches financial literacy, economics and an understanding of what the world of work is like.”
The program has been in existence since 2000 and targets students in Nassau and Suffolk County. Originally housed in a shop room in the Plainedge School District, when YES CCC got the building five years ago, the commerce plaza moved in with it. Although the main center is now located in Levittown, schools from across both counties are welcome to participate and will travel to this location for the day. Current participating school districts include Levittown, Massapequa, Plainedge, Roslyn, Franklin Square, Westbury, Port Washington, Great Neck and several others.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for kids to learn about work. They learn about work prior to their visitation to the center based on our curriculum that has been developed. Teachers are trained in the curriculum and teach students for six weeks or so before they arrive,” said Bogenshutz. “The kids are exposed to terms about economics, profit, loss, bank statements, check registry, and they are assigned jobs.”
Just like going to work in the real world, Commerce Plaza has the process down to a tee. Bogenshutz noted that the students not only apply for the jobs they want, they also go through an interview process with their teacher, who assigns them the different job responsibilities, similar to how one would apply for a job in the real world. Potential jobs include working in the medical center, newspaper, Capital One Bank, Hofstra University, Real Estate, United Way, the IKEA Snack Shoppe and several other businesses.
“It’s extraordinary what the kids can pick up; they’re so smart and excited and motivated when they come in here. They are even dressed in work attire and they really rise to the occasion,” said Bogenshutz, adding that the kids are always busy and not one student in her experience has ever said they are bored. “They are so engaged because it’s so different than what they do. The kids are bank tellers, managers, reporters, nurses and there’s a bookkeeper in every business who writes rent checks and handles payroll.”
The field visitation happens only once, the culmination of weeks of preparation in school. The day serves as the students’ field trip and they are at the building for about 4 ½ hours. Commerce Plaza also trains parent volunteers who act as so much more than chaperones, but actually assist in the businesses with the students.
“Once the kids come in, we have a town hall meeting and go over the directions, where they’re going to go and how the day will go for them,” said Bogenshutz. “We have about 50 kids per visit and each job responsibility has a different set of expectations and rules.”
Grateful for their sponsors, especially Capital One Bank, which recently sponsored and paid for LMI (low moderate income) schools to come to the center, allowing every kid an opportunity to learn, Bogenshutz said that students receive a level of learning that she hopes will be imprinted on them for a long period of time.
“A lot of parents are surprised at how the kids step up and assume the role and they get a better appreciation for what mom and dad do,” she said. “As somebody who has spent their career watching kids grow up, the more kids are exposed to healthy opportunities, the better they grow up as adults. This is an environment like no other and they learn in a truly different way.”
YES Community Counseling Center and Commerce Plaza is located at 152 Center Lane in Levittown. For more information, call 516-342-9232 or visit www.yesccc.org.