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Ordean teacher's immersive techniques win her recognition

Trying to get sixth-graders to turn their homework in on time can be challenging enough for a teacher -- much less convincing them to run for mayor. Nevertheless, Kara "KC" Pavlisich, a sixth-grade teacher at Ordean Middle School, has successfull...

Trying to get sixth-graders to turn their homework in on time can be challenging enough for a teacher -- much less convincing them to run for mayor.

Nevertheless, Kara "KC" Pavlisich, a sixth-grade teacher at Ordean Middle School, has successfully urged students to do just that for the past six years. The fact that it's for a make-believe city called JA BizTown is a minor detail to the children who pour themselves into their campaigns.

"They take it very seriously," Pavlisich said. "They have to write a speech that they present in front of the whole sixth-grade class, pick a campaign manager and a publicist."

The winner of the mayoral race really gets to act as mayor for a day when the students travel to JA BizTown, a fake city built in Maplewood, Minn., and try to run it.

It's all part of the curriculum outlined by Junior Achievement, a global nonprofit organization aimed at inspiring and preparing students to succeed in a global economy, said Tim Wigchers, district manager for the program in the upper Midwest.

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JA BizTown, formerly called Exchange City, is one of several programs under the umbrella of Junior Achievement.

Pavlisich is responsible for bringing the program to Ordean six years ago, and this year she is being honored for all the hard work she has contributed over the years.

On Tuesday, she will be honored at Junior Achievement's annual meeting in Minneapolis as the upper Midwest's JA Capstone Teacher of the Year.

"There are more than 400 teachers that participate in our region, so it's a pretty significant accomplishment," Wigchers said. Wigchers nominated Pavlisich for the award.

"When it comes to this program, she is my first resource. She just steps up every year and is willing to mentor other teachers or do whatever is necessary to make the program successful," he said.

Pavlisich is not the only participating teacher from Ordean. All of the sixth-grade staff get involved. Starting in the spring of every year, teachers work lessons from the program into their curriculum. All of them are aimed at teaching kids the skills necessarily to enter and thrive in the business world. Math classes focus on balancing checkbooks and money management. Social studies classes focus on running campaigns and writing laws. Students even learn about free trade and supply and demand.

At the end of program, students write resumes and apply for jobs within the 14 mock businesses in BizTown. Employers include a bank, a newspaper and a factory. Students spend a day working the jobs at the end of the year.

"Some of the kids come in all dressed up for the interview, it's just a stitch," Pavlisich said. "We teach them about what's appropriate, like not to have a big chunk of gum in their mouth during the interview. It's just fun to watch them turn from 12-year-olds into people who really want a job."

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They don't all get what they want, either. If they submit a sloppy resume, for example, they could easily land in the factory, where kids spend all day making paper bags.

"I've actually had a student tell me after doing it for a day that he really didn't want to work in a factory the rest of his life, so he was going to try harder in school" Pavlisich said. "If I can help a student discover that they don't want to work on an assembly line, to help them set goals, that is what it's all about."

That's what has kept Pavlisich passionately pursuing the program all these years, she said.

"I wasn't looking for this," she said about the award. "It's overwhelming and an honor, but it's not why I do it. I just try and have fun with my kids. If you can hook them with something like this, then they are with you and ready to learn."

Pavlisich also is involved in directing plays at Ordean and serves on the Duluth district's reading and social studies committee, as well as serving as a board member for the Arrowhead Reading Council.

As a teacher, she has impressed her coworkers.

"KC is a very respected and requested teacher in our school and in the district," said Peter Froehlingsdorf, another sixth-grade teacher at Ordean. "She cares about her kids and her job. She really is an outstanding teacher and we all feel very lucky to work with her."

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