Junior Achievement investing in financial literacy for students | PostIndependent.com

Junior Achievement investing in financial literacy for students

Amy Hadden Marsh
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

Former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller once said, “By introducing young Americans to the private enterprise system, Junior Achievement is helping to keep alive the spark of individualism that made possible this country’s rise to greatness.”

Founded in 1919 as an after-school program for teens, Junior Achievement (JA) has survived two world wars, the Great Depression and the Vietnam era. In the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society denounced JA as a “tool of capitalism,” according to the organization’s website.

But that didn’t deter the organization from its mission to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit. JA went global in 1989 and established a chapter in what was the Soviet Union two years later. It wasn’t until 1999, however, that JA found its way to the Roaring Fork Valley.

Sharon Brady, district manager for Junior Achievement of the Roaring Fork Valley, says, “JA teaches kids the fundamentals of economic, business and entrepreneurial skills, professionalism and conflict resolution.”

For the past 11 years, the program has grown to include 22 area schools, serving more than 2,700 students from kindergarten through high school.

Kindergarten is key, Brady said.

“Through stories, the economic principles are getting into their heads,” she said.

In one class this year, students identified coins and learned what they’re worth.

“Now for the holiday season, they’ll learn combinations of money and how to buy a present,” she said.

A virtual doughnut shop teaches third-graders about line-item and unit production. They also learn the concepts of getting paid for their work, paying taxes and finding out how tax dollars work in the community.

Middle-schoolers learn about the global marketplace by figuring out how many objects in the classroom come from different countries and then learning about those countries.

“Will they be able to write a thesis on this? Probably not,” Brady said with a laugh. It’s the concepts that count and the knowledge of real world scenarios.

Take Career Day, for instance. Remember when you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? JA takes that question to a whole new level.

Students identify a career, then JA steps in to help them figure out how they’re going to get there, as well as the lifestyle choices that will allow them to stay there.

“That’s what their parents are doing every day,” Brady said. It’s called financial literacy and is now a part of Colorado’s educational standards.

“Kids are getting out of high school, going to work, getting a debit card and don’t know how it works,” she added. “Now, they have to show proficiency in financial literacy.”

Studies have demonstrated the connection between JA and future success. Teacher surveys and studies by the Worldwide Institute for Research and Evaluation show that nationally, more JA kids graduate from high school and are better prepared for economic and career success than other students.

Still, Junior Achievement classes are not a part of the regular school curriculum. Teachers must request them and then fit them into a regular school day.

In this area, volunteers from a pool of more than 100 business owners, parents and retirees are matched with a class, given a JA teacher’s kit, and sent to the school. JA volunteers are working with 135 classes in schools from Parachute to Aspen, and the program is growing. Kathryn Senor Elementary in New Castle was just added to the list.

Brady wants people to know that JA’s work is supported by foundations, businesses and individual donations. That means classes are offered at no cost to the school districts and students. And for the past three years, the local chapter has given one lucky high school graduate a college scholarship worth $1,000.

Brady sees a bright future for JA in the Roaring Fork Valley as more teachers understand JA’s mission and the importance of financial literacy in high school.

“Our students are the future of our nation,” she said. “Why not invest in them?” Volunteers over 18 are always welcome to make that investment.

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