Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gamble On Future? NO WAY!

With Puppets’ Help, She Teaches Kids Better Way To Make Million

Carol Mandigo, Laurens, a partner in Catskill Puppet Theater for 35 years, joined LEAF in 2009 and  is using her puppetry skills in a curriculum showing pupils in Oneonta and Cooperstown that there are more certain ways to make a million than gambling.  (LEAF, based in Oneonta, stands for “Leatherstocking Education on Alcoholism/Addictions Foundation.”)


Once upon a time, there were Three Little Pigs.
And once upon a time, Carol Mandigo performed with Catskill Puppet Theater before joining LEAF in November 2009.
Mix those two narratives and, for many Otsego County youngsters, the story will never be exactly the same. 
Yes, there’s still this Big Bad Wolf.  And the pigs, now named Clank, Frank and Click. 
The wolf advises Clank to build a house of cards (not hay), and Frank to building a house of poker chips (not sticks).  But prudent Click spurns the wolf’s advice and builds a sturdy house of bricks.
The wolf huffs and puffs, and Clank and Frank’s houses collapse.  Happily, they avoid being the Big Bad Wolf’s supper by taking refuge at Click’s.
The point is this:  Cards and poker chips won’t ensure security.
But Mandigo and LEAF Executive Director Julia Dostal’s curriculum, introduced at Oneonta’s Riverside and Valley View elementary schools in January and Cooperstown Elementary and Center Street School in the past few days, isn’t about scaring youngsters onto the Straight and Narrow.
Instead, she believes, “point people at where you want them to go.”
You may be surprised to learn that 38 percent of Americans believe that only by winning the Lottery will they ever be millionaires, but “the odds against that are astronomical,” Carol said.
Through the magic of compound interest, she continued, “kids have a chance to accumulate wealth in a real way.  They could be millionaires if they want to.”
A pack of cigarettes, for instance, costs $10 these days.  If instead of buying a pack a week, a 17-year-old invested the $10 at 5 percent, by age 27 he/she would have $7,000.
It may come as no surprise that Carol developed a puppet show to dramatize her point.
And with illustrations by Mark Drnek of Sweet Home Productions and a $6,500 grant from Wilber National Bank, she created a children’s book, “Click Saves The Day,” and a curriculum for fourth and fifth graders.
Mandigo launches the curriculum with a three-class introduction.
Class One begins with a pre-test, to get an idea of the youngsters’ attitudes toward gambling.  “Kids will know a lot more than you think about gambling,” Mandigo said.  “They just don’t know it’s a bad thing.”  The puppet show follows, then a discussion on the show.
Class Two, the book is read, with the kids taking various parts. A video is played showing a gambler, in such despair that he tries to throw himself over Niagara Falls, being rescued.  (True story.)
 But, in line with Mandigo’s approach, another video relates the story of a 14-year-old who developed a $50,000 portfolio by investing his allowance in Nike, video-game companies and other products he enjoyed.
In Class Three, the students discuss their ideas and dreams.  In a recent class, one boy wanted to be an architect; another, a “recycler.”  A little girl said, “I want to sing.”
Mandigo then departs, but teachers are left with a full curriculum that incorporates math – figuring out compound interest, for instance – social studies and literature.
The goal of the class is “financial literacy,” with avoiding such pitfalls as gambling to achieve life goals.
As they say in the $450 billion gambling world, however, the cards are stacked.
As the interview began with Carol, Julia Dostal had to dash off to Albany for an emergency strategy session:  In his budget message, Governor Cuomo announced the state will seek to generate another $3 billion in gambling revenues in the next year.
He also announced:  He’s eliminating $2 million in anti-gambling money dispensed by the state Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services.

Jim Kevlin/
Sweet Home Productions’ Mark Drnek illustrated “Click Saves the Day,” an updated “Three Little Pigs” fable.

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