Junior Achievement rethinks its teaching model

0
424

Since 1954, Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado’s purpose has been to educate and inspire young people to value free enterprise and understand business and economics to improve the quality of their lives. Our mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. JA is founded on three core pillars: entrepreneurship, financial literacy and workforce readiness.

Junior Achievement is the world’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit economic education organization. Our local programs are taught by classroom volunteers from the business community in southern Colorado. JA programs offer K-12 sequential, integrated education programs which are correlated to Colorado State Standards and reinforce 21st century skills.

During the 2017-2018 school year, more than 600 business professionals and community members partnered with a local teacher to present Junior Achievement’s business, economics, financial literacy and entrepreneurial education programs to more than 16,500 K-12 students. These volunteers use their personal experiences to make Junior Achievement curricula practical and realistic and provide children with positive adult role models.

In 2012, we initiated an effort to further expand our reach to students. We embarked on a capital campaign to raise money for two experiential learning programs called JA BizTown and Finance Park. JA BizTown combines in-class learning with a day-long visit to a simulated town. This popular fifth-grade program allows elementary school students to operate banks, manage restaurants, write checks and vote for a mayor. The program helps students connect the dots between what they learn in school and the real world. JA Finance Park helps students build a foundation upon which they can make intelligent financial decisions that last a lifetime, including decisions related to income, expenses, savings and credit. The JA Finance Park program is composed of 13 required teacher-taught, in-class lessons. It culminates in a hands-on budgeting simulation that is implemented at a JA Finance Park facility. Additional extension activities are available for each lesson topic. Lessons are offered in a traditional classroom presentation format designed for middle-grade students.

It recently became clear to the board of directors of JA of Southern Colorado that the brick-and-mortar approach to JA BizTown and JA Finance Park are neither fiscally viable nor based upon 21st century technology, advances in educational theory and broadly applicable delivery methods. Technology, educational experiences and school funding has changed dramatically since the plan was created. Facility-based delivery methods are on the decline. It’s not surprising that businesses are not as interested in investing in an educational storefront when businesses are closing their actual storefronts to reduce overhead and be more financially sustainable. Stopping the capital campaign, and pivoting to a more fiscally responsible and innovative solution for providing experiential learning to a greater number of students in our community, is “living our brand.” It’s extremely rare for a nonprofit to prioritize fiscal responsibility and innovation over a well-publicized and long-standing plan. It’s risky. But it’s fiscally responsible and it’s entrepreneurial. Because entrepreneurship is part of our brand, we need to be more willing than other nonprofits to pivot in order to most effectively meet our mission. We need to lead the charge. As we take this step forward, we will be forming a task force that will explore more modern and financially viable experiential learning programs that we can deliver on a broader basis to more students. In the next few months we will be announcing the new direction we will take. We want to thank the community for their support through the years and their support of this tough, but prudent decision. We will continue to offer in-classroom programs as we’ve always done with the goal of serving more students each year. This is an exciting time for JA of Southern Colorado. We look forward to serving this community for many years to come.

Ted Mossman is chairman of the board of Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado. He can be reached at tedmossman@me.com or 719-650-0688.