http://www.idahostatesman.com/localnews/story/252138.html Elita Anderson pored over a credit-card application, studying the fine print and looking for the interest rate. "I couldn't find it," the 15-year-old North Star Charter School student said after several minutes. "The print is so small it hurts your head to read it." Anderson is enrolled in a required personal-finance class at the Eagle school that gives students a dose of real-world economics to accompany the three R's. She and the school's 319 other students in kindergarten through ninth grade get daily exposure to economics in an effort to make them more savvy consumers and to help them understand how business works. North Star carved a niche for itself this year in education that many say is rare for a public school: It has given economics the kind of priority usually reserved for reading and math. Idaho requires students to take only one semester of high school economics before graduation. At North Star, economics education begins in kindergarten. Five-year-olds learn the difference between wants and needs, a precursor to understanding economic choices they'll make later in life. Those simple discussions will eventually show kids "how they should use their money," kindergarten teacher Carmen Carley said. Carley flashed a picture of a warm scarf on a screen in front of her students recently and asked them which it was: need or want. A need, Hanna Miller told her teacher: "to get warm." When teachers looked at adding economics to their instruction last year, they already had full days of classes covering material on which all students take statewide achievement exams. They looked for ways to incorporate business and finance into what they already teach, said Kali Kurdy, a retired Borah High School economics instructor who helped North Star create its economic studies. In fourth grade, for example, when students study Idaho history they also learn about grocery-store magnate Joe Albertson, who grew a national food chain from a single Boise store. Students learn "how you build a grocery store into a huge empire," Kurdy said. In fifth grade, North Star students study taxes. They learn that taxpayers share the cost of services that seem free - such as police, firefighters and roads. They also set up miniature economies in their classrooms where they apply for jobs and develop new goods and services, said Joan Rosenbaum, a North Star fifth-grade teacher. One student hit on a new service for accountants: offering to help people hopelessly tangled trying to balance their checkbooks. Insurance agents come to Rosenbaum's class and discuss health coverage. At least one student a year is designated as someone who is hospitalized. The student walks on real crutches and gets hospital bills that must be paid from the Monopoly-like money students earn at their jobs. The economic curriculum plays well with parents. "Economics is something we all need to have a clear understanding on, whether it is balancing your checkbook or how you pay rent," said Melissa Castrigno, whose daughter is in sixth grade at North Star. "I feel it is a necessity for our youth to succeed in the competitive world we are emerging into." North Star, which opened five years ago, settled on the economics curriculum as school officials looked for a way to define the school and develop a high school. Other charter high schools within Meridian School District boundaries were focused on medical arts and technology. "We need to create something and commit to something that's an alternative," said Joe de Vera, North Star board chairman. "This gives a student another incentive or a reason to consider us." North Star administrators are applying for the 11th and 12th grades - which will open in the next couple of years - to become an International Baccalaureate school emphasizing business and economics. International Baccalaureate is a demanding course of study that includes outside assessment of student work that must meet rigorous international standards. The only other International Baccalaureate school in the Treasure Valley is Riverstone International School, which is private. Meridian School District also is considering opening an International Baccalaureate program. North Star is stepping into an arena drawing increased attention from many who are encouraging more economics education. The Federal Reserve, for example, offers programs for schools to help educate kids about finance. The more times schools touch a student's life with economic lessons, the greater the "opportunity for that content to become part of a kid's life," said Jody Hoff, a former Homedale economics teacher who is now district manager of economics education for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. But getting schools to commit to economics on North Star's level can be difficult. "Too many teachers and parents have not themselves had any economics in their background," said Bob Duvall, president and CEO of the National Council on Economics Education, which advocates more economics in schools through teacher training and other programs. "To have it as the guiding theme or focal point of a school is very rare," he said.