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Working with Junior Achievement to Provide Financial Education for Local Youth

Junior Achievement (JA), an organization committed to teaching students from kindergarten through high school about financial topics, has come to hold a special place in our hearts. Recently, Amber Santos and Tom Schmidt from our La Jolla office, as well as Darla Clark from our downtown San Diego office, visited JA’s BizTown (the only BizTown facility in California!) to help San Diego elementary school students operate banks, manage restaurants, write checks and vote for mayor.

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The goal of the program is to help kids connect the concept of dealing with the financial responsibilities of adulthood to the reality. Rene Wisch and Lisa Johns from our Vancouver, Washington office also volunteered with BizTown through Junior Achievement of Washington. Khellie Van and Devin Jackson have volunteered through Junior Achievement’s classroom programs in Washington.

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Junior Achievement offers dozens of different kinds of programs and many ways to volunteer. Kim Poole and Bill Scheffel from our Escondido office presented about the finances of cities to third grade students at Joli Ann Leichtag Elementary School in Vista, for example. They covered topics like taxes, revenue, banking, small businesses, municipalities and how all of these parts work together. Their coworkers, Cindy Thomas, Erin Brosch and Taryn Diehl (as well as Bill Scheffel) also volunteered in a classroom at Willow Grove Elementary in Poway.

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The JA programs focus primarily on work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Most schools don’t dedicate much or any curriculum time to these topics. Since students at low-income schools may have even less opportunity for financial education, Junior Achievement focuses primarily on these schools, though not exclusively.

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Amber, who worked with fifth graders at BizTown said, “They worked hard, and their excitement was contagious.” She hopes to volunteer again.

For BizTown, the fifth graders have had in-class sessions with volunteers before they attend so that they’re prepared. “Prior to the day, they get some education from Junior Achievement presentations from kindergarten on,” says Tom. “BizTown is the reward for all that instruction.” The students and the volunteers also receive instruction booklets when they arrive at BizTown.

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Tom, who has volunteered with Junior Achievement for many years and in several capacities, including instructing the personal finance curriculum to high schoolers through Junior Achievement’s in-class program, says he continues to enjoy giving back to the kids. “It’s a win-win. I like working with kids, and it amazes me what some kids know and do. Some get so involved during BizTown that they don’t even want to go on break.”

Amber concurred, adding, “They were really responsible and took the experience very seriously.”

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Darla helped run the San Diego Union Tribune shop at BizTown with students from San Diego’s Jamacha neighborhood. Four of the kids published a newspaper, which included photos, an editorial article, an interview with the Mayor and articles about two of the businesses in Biz Town.

“It was a very busy and fun experience,” said Darla, who was impressed by the kids in her shop, saying they “were smart and did the work.”

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It’s easy to be a Junior Achievement volunteer. “Junior Achievement gives you all the materials in a packet, as well as all the lessons and video tutorials for classroom sessions,” said, Kim. “They walk you through it completely.”

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Kim was hooked after her first classroom experience volunteering for Junior Achievement. “I realized I have all the tools available to help teach these kids. They need to go out in the world with the financial strength to make the decisions they need to make and to understand them.” In addition to that, she says, “And it’s so much fun!”

“I was nervous!” Lisa readily admits feeling before her classroom teaching assignment through Junior Achievement. But, she says, “JA really prepares you for the classes. They have great training materials and it only takes about 20 minutes to read through them.”  Lisa taught a third grade class about city planning. The class met for 45 minutes once a week for five weeks.

One night, after the program had ended, Lisa experienced something that confirmed the impact volunteering can have. She was at a restaurant with her family when she passed by a table where two young girls were having dinner with their mother. One of the girls looked up at Lisa, smiled and said, “Hi!” Lisa immediately recognized her as one of her students from her JA class.

Lisa stopped to talk to her. Her mother asked who she was, and the young girl eagerly answered, “She is the Junior Achievement teacher!” Lisa felt so good that the student remembered her. “This made me realize how important volunteering is, and how much of an impact you can have in a child’s life.”

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To volunteer with Junior Achievement, contact your local chapter.screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-07-51-am


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