Alhambra High School senior Jeff Liang looks over a list of more than 90 countries. Representing Australia, his team begins to exchange “long-term development projects” — index-sized cards listing goods for import and export — with nearby students.
Liang is part of a group of nearly 400 high school seniors packed inside the Alhambra High School gymnasium on May 15. The students appear to be playing an interactive party game, but it is actually the school's annual International Economic Summit. Teams of four act as economic advisors to a particular country and build alliances, trade goods, and fund international development projects, all in the hope of becoming the most economically successful country in the world — or in the gymnasium.
Developed in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the three-hour learning exercise is the culmination of a semester of work in the economics classes of AHS teachers Netza Bravo, Javier Gutierrez, and Johnnie Lau. The project is designed to help students put economics concepts into practice through mock trade and alliance negotiations.
“It’s basically all the major concepts of economics coalesced into one project,” Gutierrez says.
Teams are evaluated during the summit based on their costumes and displays, as well as presentations of their country’s culture and current issues, topics they have been studying since January. “The students even spend weekends working on their projects,” says teacher's aide Gioconda Martinez. “They took time. It was a challenge but I think the countries were represented very well.”
While some seniors choose to represent their country of heritage, others, like Angelica Ceballos, select a country based on its current issues. “[My group] chose Saudi Arabia because of all the country’s problems,” says Ceballos, whose team focuses on advancing women’s rights. “There was a lot that we could cover through the project.”
During the trade simulation, teams can take out loans, purchase internal improvement coupons, and utilize foreign aid vouchers from wealthy countries to help improve the quality of life in their country. Students start with a limited number of aid vouchers to give to other countries, forcing them to prioritize their causes and compete for a limited amount of resources. Christopher Tan, whose group focuses on AIDS and HIV research in Zimbabwe, admits that collecting support from other teams was “tough.”
The trade session, which lasts over an hour, presents another challenge. Groups must strategically trade within their alliances if they wish to avoid tariffs, all while analyzing their import and export needs. “It’s a balance between having things that other countries want and needing what they have,” Gutierrez says.
At the end of the summit, students win medals and trophies donated by the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce and Alhambra Education Foundation for the best table displays, best costumes, and overall total points accrued.
Tiffany Huynh, who represents Taiwan, says she learned about the country through the project. “I didn’t know about Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes,” says Huynh, whose display featuring miniature lanterns dangling from a tiled roof won first place. Another key topic: "China-Taiwan relations.”