We the Children: Harbor City Flourishes as a Fully Functional Micro-Society
Harbor City: a fully-functional micro-society created by the children, for the children, and of the children.
It has been said that when you expect grown-ups to behave like children, they will seldom disappoint you.
At Boys and Girls Harbor, we’ve learned that when we treat children like grown-ups—that is, with respect for their intellect, their best instincts, and their immense capacity for problem-solving and self-reliance—they will astound and make us proud every time. Nowhere is this more evident than at Harbor City.
Based on an educational model that teaches children to build their own micro-society—replete with a system of government, commerce, finance, entertainment, community organizing, civil justice, and policing—Harbor City is a fully-functional community created by the children, for the children, and entirely of the children. Harbor City both mirrors and prepares our students for the grown-up world they will inherit and inhabit in the not-too-distant future.
An outgrowth of the Boys & Girls Harbor Afterschool Program, Harbor City was established in 1995. “We were the very first afterschool program to implement a micro-society in New York City,” says Ms. Vanessa Taylor, Director of Afterschool and Summer Camp Programs, including Harbor K.I.D.S., and who has been with the Harbor since 1990. “We received a Proclamation from the Mayor of New York in 1998 in recognition of that,” she says proudly.
Harbor City operates one day a week from October to May each year. Its citizens, workers, and protectors are children in Grades 3 through 5.
Learning About Jobs, Paying Rent, and Money Management
Harbor City has its own currency. Working residents are paid in Harbros, which can be used to purchase goods and services throughout the town. As in the grown-up world, workers are required to show up and do their assigned jobs; if they don’t, their pay will be docked. All workers receive a day off from time to time so they can visit and enjoy other parts of Harbor City.
For those who are not quite ready to participate in the workforce, the Harbor City Employment Office sponsors a job fair, and arranges on-the-job training, internships, and volunteer opportunities that support the community. No one is unemployed or idle in Harbor City.
Each resident is required to pay for a seat, similar to meeting the obligations of renting or owning a home. All Harbor City residents maintain checking and savings accounts at the Harbor City Bank, and learn how to write checks, save money, and manage their finances.
Commerce Thrives in Harbor City
Harbor City enjoys a thriving commercial sector. The Yum-Yum Shack is the local “bakery” where residents and visitors can buy snacks and treats. Dazzel (pronounced “dah-ZELL”) is the town’s department store, where anyone with enough Harbros can purchase a variety of general merchandise, fashion accessories, and trinkets designed and created by the shop’s own staff or purchased from other citizens of Harbor City.
On occasion, the merchants will accept US currency (don’t you dare call dollars “real” money; Harbros are real, too), mostly from teachers who do not earn Harbros because they are neither residents nor workers at Harbor City, and from visitors to the town on special occasions such as Take Your Parents to Work Day. This gracious currency exchange policy allows non-Harbor City citizens to purchase specialty items such as Oreos and other “imported” goods.
Entertainment is Important, Too
The Entertainment Center showcases live performances by the older students enrolled in the Boys & Girls Harbor Performing Arts Academy. Enterprising promoters advertise the events and sell tickets to each show. The Sports Lounge provides additional opportunities for good clean fun; patrons can play video games, or challenge their friends to a game of table hockey, chess, or other activities that promote healthy competition, physical fitness, sportsmanship, and critical thinking.
Those who want to try their hand at politics must set up and run their own political campaigns. A new mayor, city representatives, and a judge are voted into office by democratic process each year.
Policing and a civil court round out the system of governance at Harbor City. Peace officers oversee the safety, well-being, and harmonious existence of the town’s residents. Transgressors may be fined (in Harbros, of course) for improprieties after a fair hearing before the judge. Thankfully, Harbor City’s crime rate is very close to zero, and, more often than not, its citizens and merchants are able to work out their differences without having to sue each other in court. Still, on the rare occasion that a dispute arises, there are systems in place to ensure fairness, order, and justice.
Harbor City’s Workforce
Every town needs architects, designers, writers, and artists. Harbor City has them. There are workers and artists who design and install awnings and signage for the businesses, create and print campaign posters for candidates running for office, and craft items that can be sold at the shops. There is even a thriving press corps: The Harbor City News employs reporters, editors, and photographers to keep the town informed and entertained.
Harbor City is Real
Harbor City is not a fantasy play space intended merely to keep children occupied during afterschool hours. It is as real and as big as life. The children undertake this operation with great seriousness, and are deeply protective of and invested in the success of the town. Teachers act only as advisors and facilitators when needed, such as when the newest influx of citizens arrives at the beginning of each academic year. The longer-term residents of the town do a fine job of providing most of the training and orientation for the newcomers.
Life at Harbor City doesn’t end with the academic year; it becomes a vital part of a child’s character development well beyond childhood and adolescence. “Just the other day,” Ms. Taylor relates, “I ran into a former Harbor City kid on the bus. He is now a young man who recently graduated from high school. He was excited to tell me all about how, to his amazement, the things he learned as a child at Harbor City prepared him well for his first real job as an adult. That is what I want to hear. That is why this work is so important to the lives and futures of our children.”