By Chip Reed, Junior Achievement Alabama President
In this guest post, Chip Reed, who has been with Junior Achievement for almost 18 years, will discuss why the program is fundamental to not only students in Alabama, but also the state’s future workforce and economy.
As most students head back to school this month, they will return to the daily routine of listening, learning, completing assignments, and turning in homework. For some students though, they will have the added value of participating in Junior Achievement (JA) programs that involve real-life, business volunteers, such as Bryant Bank employees, teaching them about economic and financial topics.
The power of Junior Achievement
JA is a non-profit organization that goes into schools all across Alabama and other states. Bryant Bank is involved in Tuscaloosa and Baldwin County where our programs have had such a positive impact on thousands of kids. Generally speaking, at a national level, kids who have the chance to be involved in JA programs economically out perform the general population.
A business like Bryant Bank is instrumental to JA being able to reach more kids. We firmly believe as a mission point that the power of mentors from the real-world makes the content stand out and come alive for kids. Volunteers can serve as role models, mentors, experienced resources, and as representatives of the business environment.
When kids hear JA volunteers say things like, “In my job, here’s what I’ve always observed…” or, “Yesterday, at my job, we dealt with the same thing,” those types of references make the content more valuable, and it makes the topics stand out differently than they would with traditional academics. They make the lessons memorable, meaningful, relevant, timely, and practical. That’s where the impact really lives.
Why we need volunteers to teach
Jump$tart Coalition, a non-profit coalition of national organizations seeking to advance the financial literacy of students, has conducted research to study whether or not parents are teaching kids about money at home. When asked, the majority of parents answer yes. But when kids are asked, the majority say no. There’s a disconnect here. Either parents are not actually talking about it, or they are talking about it in such a way that the kids aren’t really hearing and retaining what they are saying.
It may have to do with the fact that a child’s mom is mad because the child didn’t clean their room, and their teacher is mad because they didn’t turn in their homework. JA volunteers are an unbiased resource. They are just there to help. That’s the key.
How Junior Achievement programs work
The JA curriculum is structured, organized, and laid out with key objectives by activity or lesson. We provide teaching tips and time cues, as well as all of the needed materials, such as handouts, posters, videos, etc. It’s similar to baking a cake: JA provides the cake mix and the oven, and we even turn the oven on.
However, we don’t provide a script, and this is important. There are no lectures or speeches. This is not a speakers’ series. Our volunteers do have to prepare. They have a step-by-step lesson plan that is designed specifically to help business people be successful in the classroom.
All content is age-appropriate, and discussion is activity-based. This makes it fun for the kids and for volunteers. We start with basic, fundamental understanding concepts at the elementary level. In kindergarten, that means discussing the difference between needs and wants; how to earn, spend, and save money; and how to work in groups to complete projects that better the community.
We build upon that in first grade talking about family members working at jobs to earn money; then in second grade, the students pretend they have jobs in a donut factory. They learn about the difference between unit production and assembly line production, and they make paper donuts with stickers for decoration. They then have to pay taxes on the income to earn from having those jobs.
Second grade is significant, particularly in Tuscaloosa schools where every second grader participates in JA for this fundamental introduction to jobs, how the economy fits together, and why we need businesses in the community.
Things progress in middle school with more focus on decision making and the real world as it applies to this age. Every 7th grader in Tuscaloosa does a program called “It’s My Future” which starts to look at self as brand, career exploration, the 16 career clusters, taking an interest inventory, what jobs are available, and what education is necessary for those jobs.
The investment in Tuscaloosa’s 2nd and 7th graders goes along with their strong workforce preparation programs. They are making sure the kids know how to make good decisions now so they can enter the workforce more intentionally in a few years.
JA provides this opportunity to invest in kids and the future workforce. As Alabama’s economic opportunities continue to advance, the state is poised for career growth. JA is a fantastic direct investment in that future workforce.
Educators are working hard, but they can’t do this by themselves. Teachers and school systems are interested in partnering with the business community, and JA is an easy, proven way to do that. In Tuscaloosa, we are already serving over 12,000 kids, but we want to serve more. Because demand is increasing, we need more volunteers from organizations like Bryant Bank to support us.
Starting in September, and then throughout the school year, our volunteers will be hitting the schools to provide lessons, either with the popular “JA in a Day” model or over a period of weeks. We can’t do this without relationships with businesses like Bryant Bank. Please contact us if your business or organization wants to get involved in investing in Alabama’s future.
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