Eight-year-old Adam Landsman was the big winner playing a galactic version of Monopoly last Friday at Dominican University.

The Star Wars version of the popular board game belonged to 7-year-old Mathew Leonard, Landsman’s playing partner. At first glance, visitors to Dominican’s Gifted and Talented Summer Program last Friday might think they’d stumbled unto a Little League Monopoly tournament.

But it was actually the end of a week-long class teaching the second- and third-graders about the real-world economy. Leonard, Landsman and 14 other students from schools in Oak Park and River Forest spent Friday racking up properties, hotels and cash. The kids were allowed to bring in their own Monopoly games.

Dominican’s Gifted and Talented Program director, Steve Parsons, came up with the Monopoly idea. Originally starting with one class of students, an additional class was added because of the demand from parents to enroll their kids. To help the kids understand how certain people are affected by the economy, they didn’t start with the usual $1,500 for each player in a regular Monopoly game.

The students were split into four economic classes-poor, low-income, upper middle class and rich. The wealthiest group started with $2,500 and the poor group with $1,000. The low-income and upper middle class groups started with $1,500 and $2,000, respectively. The students felt that starting with different sums of cash was unfair. But instructor Greg McNutt told them that was part of their lesson. He even wrote on the board “Life is unfair.” The kids, though, were able to take turns at different economic levels, so all had a chance to be “rich.”

“Everyone starting with the same amount of money and having a level playing field – we all know that’s not real life,” McNutt said.

Along with the varied cash amounts, the students had “inherited property” to start out with, but still sticking with their assigned economic level. The wealthiest group had properties like Park Place and Boardwalk with hotels already on them. They also had the railroads. The poor group started with the least valued properties, such as Connecticut, Vermont and Oriental avenues.

McNutt said the students understood how having different dollar amounts affected their success in the game, and thus in life. If you were poor, you might be eliminated first, but there were some students in the poor group who ended up with the most money and properties, McNutt recalled. The kids also understood that the poor aren’t able to buy the same things the rich can.

“It was definitely a challenge to stay in the game if you were poor, but I think they made that connection,” he said.

The classes met from 9:30 in the morning until around 3 in the afternoon, but not all that time was spent passing “Go” and collecting their $200. The students had lunch, recess, gym and computer lab time, along with their Monopoly lesson. McNutt said some of the students had never played the game before, so he took some time going over the basic rules. The game also helped the students with their math.

Landsman, who attends Hatch Elementary, said he really liked the class, though he didn’t know much about Monopoly before playing.

“We learned to play Monopoly the real way,” he said.

Whittier student Aidan Parker, 8, added, “I started the game poor but ended up being rich. I liked that they changed it so that it could be more like real life.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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