``I asked the students, `How can we make the classroom more like the neighborhood?' '' Sylvester said yesterday. ``I wanted to challenge them to try to create a real society.''
The students have actually recreated a version of Philadelphia inside the classroom, complete with street signs, a university, a bank, a candy factory, a community garden, an art-supply store, and office buildings.
The 22 students administer the ``city'' as though they are its store owners and officials. Sylvester's idea is to show them how to run the classroom as a real community.
Their classroom structures are made of cardboard. Their desks represent houses, and rents are paid to the mayor.
When class started yesterday, the teacher paid the students with checks he created on the computer. Amounts they receive are based on class performance.
``I give people jobs so they can pay their rent,'' said Brittany Holt, 9, the mayor who co-owns a games store with four ``employees.'' ``If they can't pay their rent, we put them on welfare.''
Anitriya Sutton, 9, serves as the city's judge.
She has already presided over two cases in which computer store owners allegedly ``cheated'' their customers. Each time, the ``jury'' ruled in favor of the customers.
James Kane, who has been the school's principal for 23 years, said that parents and students are responding positively to the class.
``I have children in this class who were difficult to manage in previous grades who are now fully tuned in and motivated,'' Kane said.
``I have parents who want their children in this class next year. There's no better feedback than that.
``In building the [classroom neighborhood] community you teach children systems that we all take for granted because we live in them and we live through them,'' he said.
Regina Rose, said her 8-year-old son, Ronald, loves the program.
``It teaches the kids how they may want to live and what part they may want to play in the community, and it's giving them a great business sense,'' Rose said. ``He gets very excited about it.''
The City Council has already enacted legislation to ensure the system runs smoothly. Among others, store owners must keep stores clean and must be paid for goods purchased. Property owners must be issued a title as proof of ownership. Sales people must be fair to customers and the police have to enforce the law.
``It's fun and challenging,'' said Sylvester, 36, who introduced the program. Running the ``neighborhood classroom'' was as tough as the work he did for his doctorate, he said.
``This is so much harder because of the complexity of different students and the social dynamics of the group,'' he said. ``It's also emotionally taxing, and I go home very tired. It takes everything I have.''