By T.J. Pyette
A Havre High School business class is putting a new twist on consumer scams by creating a "scam" of its own.
The 20 classmates have created a project based on the same idea as a pyramid scheme: They will commit random acts of kindness that build on each other with the goal of spreading good acts throughout the state, the nation and beyond.
The students studied a myriad of scams and pyramid schemes as part of a unit on consumer protection and fraud. They were impressed by the far-reaching effects of some common scams, Havre High senior Jenna Erhard said. Havre High business teacher Vicki Proctor challenged them to commit random acts of kindness while observing similar widespread effects.
Under Proctor's guidance, the students developed a kindness crusade that imitates the scams they encountered during their studies, but has a positive impact on those it touches.
Each student was issued five gold coins, labeled "kindness currency," to distribute to people for whom they've performed an act of kindness. The coin recipients are instructed to pass the coin on to someone else after performing an act of kindness for them.
"The acts of kindness don't have to be anything big," Erhard said, "just something that brightens someone's day."
Proctor added that while the study was geared toward consumer protection, she has tried to impress upon the students the importance of being nice to others.
"We're not all just place holders in society," she said. "We can make worthwhile contributions that may seem small, but have significance at the same time."
Students must submit a final analysis of the project to Proctor. In the analysis they will address demographic issues, like Montana's isolation, relative to the speed at which the coins may spread. They must also describe how the project, like common consumer scams, relies on trust relationships within society.
Trust has been identified as a main component in consumer scams, Proctor said, so she also required students to think about and describe how the experiment impacted their own personal trust issues with others.
In addition, students must relate how the experiment may help members of society learn to trust the helpful stranger and identify a con artist.
In order to track the coins, the students have developed a coin registry on the school's Web page, www.hhs.havre.mt.us. Coin recipients are to register the number of their gold coin and submit the name of the city and state in which they reside.
The program could last indefinitely, or for as long as people continue to register their coins and pass them along.
Junior Jeff Sprinkle said he is curious to see how far the coins will go. "They could end up all across the country," he said.
Sprinkle said the idea for the program is loosely based on a movie titled "Pay it Forward," starring Helen Hunt. In the movie, characters engage in acts of kindness toward others while observing sometimes surprising effects.
Sprinkle and Erhard agree they are curious about the experiment's outcome.
"I plan to continue to monitor the progress of the coins even though I'll be done with this class on Friday," Sprinkle said.