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A fifth grader and parent volunteer from Pensar Academy working together at JA BizTown.

 

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish they would have taught us this in high school?” Usually, the words come to mind when writing out a budget, attempting to do taxes without a professional, learning how to invest or exploring a career change. 

While it may be too late for adults to go back and educate their 16-year-old selves, children in kindergarten through 12th grade now have a way to learn life management skills while going to school through a program called Junior Achievement.

JA is a worldwide nonprofit dedicated to teaching students topics not typically learned in school. It was founded in 1919 in New England by Theodore Vale, President of American Telephone & Telegraph, Horace Moses, president of Strathmore Paper Co. and Senator Murray Crane of Massachusetts. Over 100 years ago, these three visionaries had an idea to teach kids about business and how the United States economy functioned. 

It was first known as The Company Program and was offered as an after-school session for high school students. With help from business mentors, students set up their own businesses and then manufactured and sold products and services.

In 1957, Junior Achievement opened in Arizona, launching its first office in Tucson. A few years later, in 1975, the organization began to offer classroom programs at all grade levels. The curriculum involves financial literacy, work readiness education and entrepreneurship training. 

In 2001, they launched JA BizTown (located in Tempe), and JA Finance Park began in 2009. These programs reach almost 90,000 primarily low-income students in Arizona each year. 

“We prepare kids to succeed in work and life. Each of our 45+ programs focuses on giving kids the skills to manage their money, thrive in their future careers and think entrepreneurially,” Vice President Anne Landers said. “Our programs offer a wide range of delivery models, engagement strategies and age-appropriate content so that we can meet the diverse needs of educators today and ultimately prepare students to succeed.”

JA utilizes the help of thousands of volunteers who take lessons to schools. Programs range from a one-time pop-in lesson to a series of lectures in a single day or over several weeks to semester-long programs for high schoolers. 

“Many know of our program through JA BizTown, one of our flagship hands-on programs for fourth-sixth graders,” Landers said. “BizTown is run by students, for students. Have you ever seen the influence of a fifth-grade mayor? It’s a sight to see!”

Before visiting BizTown, students learn about the economy, having a job, personal and business finances, marketing, civic duties, financial obstacles/opportunities, leadership and responsibility. Then, they put that knowledge to the test in the 12,000 square-foot student-sized towns. 

JA Finance Park is geared toward middle and high school students. They are given a real-life scenario and have to apply financial lessons from the classroom to make a balanced family budget. Landers explained that there is a career exploration component, where students learn about jobs that might interest them in the future.

JA also serves students in non-traditional environments, such as partner community organizations, foster care programs, youth detention centers and opportunity youth. 

“To put it simply, we have a dream that all kids graduate prepared to navigate adulthood better, having received at least one, if not several, JA programs along their journey in youth,” Landers said.

Junior Achievement partners with more than 400 schools across the state. In the past, they’ve partnered with Echo Canyon and are currently available to students at St. Theresa Catholic School, Biltmore Prep and Ingleside Middle School. 

Their most recently opened program is called JA Inspire; it focuses on career exploration and readiness for teens who can connect directly with more than 100 Arizona employers and explore future career paths. 

“Our programs correlate to state learning standards, are turn-key for teachers and help meet the needs of students today. JA Inspire bridges the gap from the classroom learning to the real world and reinforces the expertise and content teachers are providing,” Landers said.  

JA plans to expand its programs to reach more than 100,000 students a year in the future. 

jaaz.org