Students Work on Running Community; It's Part of an Advanced Placement Macroeconomics Class at Nease High School

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Byline: CHRISTINA ABEL

Conserving parks and green space and maintaining homeless shelters and historic structures while making a community profitable is something usually dealt with by St. Johns County officials, but a Nease High School class has also been tackling the tasks.

In teacher H.A. Smith's advanced placement macroeconomics class, juniors and seniors are spending 15 weeks developing a viable, if fictitious, community called Elmwood.

The groups have to plan the architecture, the types of businesses and homes that will line the streets and whether to include schools, a homeless shelter, historic buildings, parks and community centers.

Each student plays a role in a group and, unlike other courses where group work becomes one person doing everything, each member is responsible for certain duties. For example, each group has a site planner, city liaison, neighborhood liaison, marketing director and financial analyst. If one doesn't do their part, the community doesn't get developed.

"They have to consider everything; the market demand, income levels, resource scarcity, the political economy," Smith said. "It's really good about giving kids a visceral experience."

Three markedly different designs developed throughout the two-week project, one for each group. The same blank draft paper for a six-block community was tackled by each group in a different way, resulting in a collection of multi-colored Lego blocks, representing the community's businesses, parks, school and homes. Volunteers from St. Johns County, such as builders, developers, attorneys and land planners, gave the groups advice.

Senior Xochi Batlle wanted to be the site planner for her group. She said that she is very concerned about land conservation and wanted to make her development one that incorporates parks and green space into the community.

"I'm really interested in environmental conservation and I have a really hard time accepting the development going on locally ... like Nocatee," she said.

She said that she struggled to maintain parks and green space while making sure the community had a solid revenue return for investors, one of the requirements for the project. She said that as a young person, she isn't included in the decision-making for communities like Nocatee, but that this project allowed her to keep those priorities in her vision for the town. …