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Fifth-Graders Work at Mall Learning Lab

DURING a three-week pilot program last spring, children who ``worked'' at the Enterprise Village minimall in Largo, Fla., engaged in commuter-train-type business chatter on their bus rides home, according to drivers. This real-to-life economics learning lab, which officially opened its doors Oct. 23 to fifth-graders in Pinellas County, is a partnership between the public schools and private businesses.

The mall is no make-believe facility. Its 18,000-square-foot building shares a 40-acre residential site with two elementary schools. Eighteen business and municipal sponsors put up $50,000 each for the privilege of opening spaces in which their normal activities will be simulated.

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Students have to apply for their jobs as part of the six-week classroom preparation that leads up to one day as mall wage-earners.

``Classroom teachers have the tough task of being the personnel directors,'' says Keith Gall, the village manager, whose 10-person staff, including three teachers, operates the mall with the help of trained adult volunteers.

Depending on job standing, pupils make between $13.50 and $16.50 a day in special village dollars and quarters, vouchers used to purchase goods and services. The Enterprise Village experience is thought to be a good fit for the fifth-grade curriculum, plus it catches youngsters at a good age. ``Ten-year-olds are very impressionable,'' says Mr. Gall. ``Older children might be more interested in the social than the educational aspects [of the program].''

From a student's perspective, the chief drawback to village ``employment'' may be that it lasts just one day - actually only about 4 1/2 hours. To accommodate the county's 7,000 fifth-graders, one day per student is all the schedule permits.