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A Student Store of Their Own

Mrs. Melgar turned her student incentive system into a thriving classroom economy

Alt: Picture of a teacher smiling in their classroom.

June 15, 2023

Carla Isabela Melgar

4th grade teacher at ICEF Vista Elementary Academy in Inglewood

Ten-year-olds pay rent; they also pay taxes–at least in Carla Melgar’s 4th grade classroom they do. In fairness, they also have jobs which they get compensated for in Melgar bucks, the most sought-after currency at ICEF Vista Elementary Academy in Mar Vista. Students use their “income” to purchase items or snacks at Melgar’s Store which is open at lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and staffed by students who get “paid” for their time and practice good customer service.

It’s unusual for ten-year-olds to actively interact with an economy, albeit a fake one, but Carla wholly embraces the spirit of innovation. When she had the idea for Melgar Bucks she immediately brought it to life. “I love to do things on the spot. If I have a good idea, I have no problem starting right away,” she shares. It’s a philosophy she extends beyond her classroom economy. She readily welcomes ideas from students and is constantly testing different ways to teach and engage her 4th graders. You can see this come to life as she teaches, strolling around the room to check in with students individually and adapting her method and content based on their levels of understanding. 

Mrs. Melgar, who is only in her second year of teaching, has an air of confidence and comfortability that is usually reserved for more tenured educators. She attributes part of her success to her school culture, the students, and the community which created a welcoming environment from day one.

“I think that’s one of the most important things for new teachers is to feel like they're part of something. My principal, vice principal, the staff and other teachers here were very open to receiving me. Even though they had their own responsibilities they supported me,” tells Mrs. Melgar, “and of course, my students were incredible and so welcoming.”

Carla Melgar

Los Angeles Corps Member 2022

This sense of community is something Carla has honed in on as part of the “secret sauce” to a successful classroom. Her first year was overwhelming learning how to teach while also taking night classes, and studying for her educator credentialing exam. So, she identified top priorities to focus her efforts which included increasing her students’ comfortability and performance in Math and English Language Arts, and creating an inclusive, safe, and exciting learning environment. “My biggest goal was classroom culture and making sure that the kids felt loved,” notes Carla. Together they participated in community circles where they answered questions to prompts about their lives. Students found themselves bonding over interests and commiserating over shared experiences they did not enjoy, such as waiting for their caregiver to be done shopping at Ross. Mrs. Melgar’s strategy certainly worked. During her first year of teaching, her class won two awards–one for the most improvement in math scores and the other known as Golden Cone which is voted on by students and awarded to the class with the best culture. 

Mrs. Melgar’s community extends beyond her students and school. She introduced parents to her teaching style allowing them to experience the thrill of earning Melgar bucks when they came to campus for Open House. But, true to form, she made them work for their money by completing both a word search and a scavenger hunt to earn five dollars to spend at the store. “The parents understood the philosophy behind it and appreciated that their children were learning how to manage money at such a young age. They were just as engaged and excited as the kids.” Carla hopes her students leave her classroom with more than academic skills and absorb the important life lessons she’s taught them about respect, responsibility, and money management. “They are smart and curious. If possible, I want to prepare them for what's coming in real life.”

Inspired? Please consider donating to Ms. Melgar's store via Donors Choose.