Junior Achievement course teaches Glenwood fourth graders what it takes to be a global entrepreneur | PostIndependent.com

Junior Achievement course teaches Glenwood fourth graders what it takes to be a global entrepreneur

At table, from left, Brody McDermott, Elliana Windholz and Emily Mojarro Sanchez, work to solve a problem as other student scurry to do the same during a Junior Achievement class supply chain exercise Dec. 11 in Marty Mazzotta's fourth grade class as Sopris Elementary School.
John Stroud/Post Independent

A recent Wednesday at Sopris Elementary School saw a classroom of fourth-graders split up into small groups representing eight different countries around the world.

The entrepreneurial task: Gather parts necessary to assemble and deliver a client’s order for office computers — digital pens from Canada, keyboards from a supplier in the United States, screens from South Korea, speakers from Germany, hard drives from Mexico, power supplies from Ireland, mouse accessories from Japan, printers from Brazil, and software, memory cards, fans and video cards from China.

Wait – there’s a problem.

Seems there’s been a fire at the digital pen manufacturing facility in Canada, and they can’t deliver the order.

The Sopris students begin scrambling from table to table, networking to see if they can acquire the parts elsewhere, or otherwise proceed until it’s available.

One of the enterprising students, Clay Hesse, has an idea — why not see if there’s a supplier who could provide finger pens on short order, instead of using digital pens?

It’s one idea among many, as the students circle back to discuss how they worked together to assess the risks and rewards of the various options before coming up with a solution.

One student said the inability to obtain the crucial part made him nervous about whether the company would be able to fulfill the order.

Another worried about losing customers as a result, and that the company would fail and go out of business.

“I like that it isn’t just fun and games,” Hesse said of the five-week Junior Achievement “Our Region” sessions that he and his classmates participated in.

“This is what actually happens in life,” Hesse said. “If you want to become an entrepreneur you have to know this kind of stuff. I now know a lot more about expenses and losses and resources, and lots of other stuff … and you have to keep them all balanced.”

Sopris Elementary School fourth-graders, foreground from left, Gissel Andrade-Parada, Orrin Ruonavaara, Valeria Carrillo Rivas, Arianna Aguilar, Brody McDermott and Sean Waldron, participate in the global business exercise as part of the Junior Achievement course.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Ian Exelbert, chief operating officer for Glenwood Insurance Company, is one of several volunteer Junior Achievement teachers in the local schools.

JA is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to educating K-12 students about entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy through hands-on programs focused on business economics.

Exelbert chose to teach Our Region to Marty Mazzotta’s fourth-grade class this fall, partly because his son, Tyler, is in that class.

“It’s about giving back, mostly,” he said, “… and being involved in my own kid’s schooling and development.

“It’s an opportunity to use some of my experience and knowledge to really drive home the points of the program and apply real-life examples.”

The five-part class walked students through some of the fundamentals of being an entrepreneur, how to utilize and manage capital, human and natural resources and problem-solving.

“A lot of this is good to have a knowledge about for life in general, like problem-solving skills and thinking through things,” Exelbert said.

On the way to drop Tyler and his older brother off at their respective schools one recent morning, he used the example of getting around the 27th Street Bridge closure to make it on time.

“It’s tough to make those decisions sometimes,” Exelbert said.

Local entrepreneurs were also invited to talk to the class and offer their perspectives, including Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs owner Steve Beckley.

Along the way, Tyler, Clay and their classmates went through a mock exercise of starting up a hot dog stand. They learned who their likely customers would be and how to reach them through advertising, and how to juggle profit and loss.

The final session, where they had to order parts for the computers, focused on global entrepreneurship and how to work the supply chain. 

Another of the students, Arianna Aguilar, said the class helped her learn more about how her father runs his ice cream business.

“He tries really hard to balance the money, so we can have money for our expenses and for the business,” she said. “I learned about being an entrepreneur and the struggles and rewards … and just the value of trying to be an entrepreneur.”

Key characteristics of a successful entrepreneur (John Stroud photo)

Classroom teacher Mazzotta said the JA class content includes a lot of tangibles in the students’ general learning.

“It introduces them to lots of vocabulary, which is the biggest equalizer,” she said. “If you can grow kids’ vocabulary, they become better readers and better writers.”

In addition, much of the content will be included on the state tests in social studies this spring.

“The biggest piece is that it makes them a life-long learner, so they know about how to start a business and be an entrepreneur, if that’s what they want to do,” Mazzotta said. “And, it’s about becoming a great citizen of Glenwood Springs and of the world, because we see how we’re all interconnected.”

At the end of the five-week course last week, each student was presented with a certificate of completion and a “$1 million” chocolate bar.


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