Junior Achievement cultivates student success

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JA is dedicated to educating young people about work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Junior Achievement (JA) is the world’s largest and fastest-growing non-profit organization dedicated to educating young people about work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Using an age-appropriate curriculum, Junior Achievement programs begin in kindergarten and continue through the twelfth grade. The program teaches kids how they can impact the world around them as individuals, workers and consumers. It also inspires and prepares youth to succeed in a global economy. 

Diane Bieber - JA volunteer

Diane Bieber of Guttenberg was been involved with JA since 2006. She would like to encourage others to become active in this program that is provided free to elementary, middle and high school students. 

"I started teaching Junior Achievement in 2006 while working for the US Small Business Administration in Cedar Rapids," Bieber began. "At that time each volunteer was required to attend an in-person training session that also discussed the Volunteer Conduct of Standards - how to appropriately interact with students. We then had to sign a volunteer conduct of standards form, which is required each school year."

Clayton County is part of a large district based in Moline, Ill., called Junior Achievement of the Heartland, and encompasses the Mississippi River Valley, covering parts of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin that border the Mississippi River. 

St. Mary School

In 2015, Bieber introduced the idea of using JA to St. Mary's School administration. "I've enjoyed working with all of the students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Teaching these students the fundamentals of finance is an investment in their future as well as that of our communities," she explained. "When I graduated from high school, we had limited information about controlling personal finance. I wanted students to avoid the burden and anxiety of unnecessary debt from overspending when they were on their own." 

Earning and saving money

Teaching students the importance of buying items they need to survive versus items they want is an important part of the JA program. "I like each of the courses I teach. About half of each session is devoted to concepts and the related vocabulary," she noted. "The other half reinforces the lesson through games. The very first course for kindergarten called 'JA Ourselves' emphasizes the importance of earning and saving money, and the difference between buying things you need to survive and items you just want. I'm continually amazed at how quickly 5-year-olds grasp these ideas which are the foundation for further JA courses."

Credit cards and budgeting

In other classes Bieber talked about the importance of family, community and businesses. "We discuss international trade and how dependent countries are on each other, a lesson that hit home during the pandemic with a disruption in our supply chain, nationally and internationally," she commented. "I especially enjoy teaching the upper grades about credit card usage and creating a budget. In one class we talk about the difference between gross and net salary. You should see the look of surprise on the students' faces when they realize that money is removed from their paychecks for taxes, Medicare, Social Security and other items. It also comes as a shock when they realize the different types of insurance they will need to pay for annually, plus the cost of necessary items in their monthly budget." 

Future employment and career opportunities

JA also addresses future employment and career opportunities in its curriculum. "I'd say that as a whole, Junior Achievement classes are an eye-opener for students. It's better for students to learn financial lessons now so they can develop good spending habits before they graduate from high school," she noted. "One final course that I consider critical before students enter high school is about career choices. All of the jobs in the country are listed under 16 job clusters developed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. JA explores the values, interests and education required for each of the clusters. Students become aware of the job groups where they can be successful and it helps them chart a course for their future," 

The program curriculum for students K-12 includes:

• Money: the difference between spending for items you need or want.

• The importance of saving money and tracking how you spend it by using a monthly budget.

• Credit card usage.

• How communities work and the importance of businesses in your area. 

• How tax dollars pay the salaries of people like police, firemen, teachers, librarians, etc.

• What it takes to start and successfully run a business.

• How international trade works.  

• Students discovering a number of careers where they can be successful by looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics 16 job clusters and the interests, skills and educational level needed for jobs within the clusters.  

Teachers using Junior Achievement are aware of:

• The types of classes (topics) offered and how they meet state educational requirements for students.  

• The type and quality of materials found in each kit and that they are regularly updated. 

• The fact that each class builds upon the vocabulary and concepts of previous classes.

• Students develop good work, spending and saving habits from taking the classes. 

• Students become better employees.   

Katie Sothmann, Senior Director of Marketing & Special Events for JA of the Heartland remembered her time as a JA student fondly. She shared, “I had a few classes in elementary school, and my friends and I still talk about the JA volunteers we had and the games we played. Not even realizing at the time that we were learning important life and work readiness skills that we still carry with us today. We just thought we were having fun. Looking back I remember learning about what a check was and a savings account was from my JA volunteer. Now that I see first-hand how far the JA curriculum has come and the impact it makes on the students I feel so lucky to be a part of the organization that’s providing these lessons to thousands of students. And I can’t wait for the day my daughter gets to experience her first JA class.” 

For additional information contact Katie Sothmann at 309-277-3919 office, 309-912-4250 mobile or katie.sothmann@ja.org. Find them on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instgram and jaheartland.org.

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