It remains to be seen whether the city of St. George will be created in East Baton Rouge Parish. But three days a week during the school year, a new municipality arises in Mid City — even though it only lasts for an hour each time.
The town of Crawfish Bayou, population 650, comes into being for kindergarten through fifth grade Tuesdays through Thursdays at The Dufrocq School. It has a mayor and town council, complete with political campaigns and elections. It has businesses, a bank and its own currency, called crawfish bucks. It has a peacekeeping force, so no running in the halls or you'll get a citation and a fine.
Crawfish Bayou is a microsociety, part of an educational movement that encourages schools to have students take on roles they might later assume as adults. It may sound like playtime, but that’s not how Dufrocq administrators see it.
“It’s all about getting them to think critically, to get them to problem-solve with little to no adult intervention, to process things that go on in the real world and understand why they go on in the real world while making those academic connections,” said Noi Mills, magnet lead coordinator at Dufrocq. “'Oh, this is why I had to learn how to do that. This is where the application comes in where I’m actually applying those skills.'”
The program has operated since 2010, when students chose their form of government and wrote a constitution. Each class turns into a governmental agency, business or some other entity — performances by the Crawfish Thespian Society are very popular. There's also Micro University, the Crawfish Bayou Tribune newspaper and radio station WDUK. Teachers serve an advisory role but mostly allow the students to learn by doing.
Students aren’t assigned their jobs. They have to apply and be hired for them. As parents like Ellen Alderman have discovered, it’s remarkably detailed.
“He has to go in and check in his employees when it’s micro-time, and they have to be on duty so when the other kids come with their crawfish bucks to buy things from them,” said Alderman, whose son, Oliver, manages the Robo Ducks store. “He takes his manager duty very seriously. He had to fill out a résumé and have interviews and recommendations to get the position. It was like going through a job interview process like we would go through.”
At their jobs, town residents earn crawfish bucks, which they use to buy goods and services. But they also have to pay income and sales tax, which requires math skills to calculate. Businesses that struggle to draw customers must figure out how to improve or better market their products or services.
“We want our students to be job ready and career ready,” Mills said. “They get a lot of that without even realizing (they’re) being educated at the same time.”
Discipline is part of that education. Misbehavior can result in fines, paid in crawfish bucks. Those who dispute their guilt may take their case to court. Typically, the infractions involve issues like going up the down staircase or disrespectful behavior. But, a few years back, the Savings and Learn Bank was robbed.
The robber, Mills said, was sentenced to hard labor — working with the custodian cleaning the school during micro-society time.
“Everything is real life, and the stuff that you see in real life, believe it or not, when you let children take over the role of adults and they run their own community, it will mimic things that you see adults do,” Mills said.
Dufrocq is the only school in Louisiana that has a micro-society, Mills said, but South Highlands Elementary Magnet School in Shreveport sent teachers to study Crawfish Bayou on Nov. 1 in anticipation of creating its own town within a school.
“It’s definitely a positive experience,” parent Ellen Alderman said.