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Chicago attorneys teach students about business, civics and doughnuts

June 7, 2012

As a group of Chicago third graders assembled tiny shops and factories out of construction paper, Thompson Coburn attorney Ann Addis Pantoga unfurled a large city map on the floor of their classroom.

The students clustered their paper restaurants, shops, banks, and apartment buildings in the map’s “multi-use” portion until the sector overflowed with commercial and residential buildings.

“What do you notice about this area?” Pantoga asked the students, who crowded around her in the white shirts and dark slacks of their school uniforms. “It looks like Chicago.”

This lesson on Zoning 101 was part of the first Junior Achievement Day at National Teachers Academy, an elementary school near Chicago’s south side.

Attorneys from Thompson Coburn’s Chicago office volunteered at the school on April 27, leading a half-day program that used interactive, hands-on activities to introduce students to critical economic and financial concepts such as banking, citizenship and entrepreneurship.

The volunteers included Pantoga, Frank Buckley, Dave Duffy, Barry Fischer, Clint HansenJack Parrino, and Gary Plotnick.

The attorneys paired up to teach second, third, fourth, and fifth graders at National Teacher’s Academy, which serves a financially challenged, at-risk community.

Thompson Coburn attorneys diligently prepped their lessons, working with a Junior Achievement representative to follow their lesson plans and brush up on classroom skills. On the morning of the event, many attorneys shouldered bright-orange Junior Achievement satchels, hopped on the “L” at Monroe, and rode the Red Line down to the Chinatown stop, just a few blocks from the school.

“Financial literacy at any level is great for kids,” said Frank Buckley, a partner in the firm’s Financial Restructuring group. “Concepts like zoning and how businesses are established — that’s a lot for third graders to digest. But they really latched on to it.”

Buckley teamed with Barry Fischer to tackle a series of lessons under the heading, “Our City.” In addition to the zoning lesson, the attorneys explained the basic process for starting a business. Students created advertising for a newly-opened restaurant, crafted a menu of pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers, and set prices for the dishes based on their operating budget.

Banking and commercial finance partner Clint Hansen led a group of 30 fourth graders. To spur some innovation, they handed students cards with different industries — sports, transportation, energy conservation — and encouraged them to generate a big idea for each.

“They came up with great ideas for new products,” Hansen said. The budding inventors proposed a rollercoaster to spice up morning commutes and a sink sensor that saves energy by alerting people when they’ve used enough water.

The squirmy second graders in partner Jack Parrino’s classroom particularly relished one aspect of their lesson: Jumping on the assembly line at a make-believe doughnut company.

“They were most enthusiastic about the doughnut-making process,” said Parrino. “They cut out paper doughnuts, colored them and put stickers on them.

“It was a very positive experience. I felt like we brought the kids some excitement for the day.”