AFRO Assistant Editor
Parents across the country often wonder what they can do to educate their children about finances in the early stages of life. While many rely on books, online saving games and budgeting spreadsheets few are aware that there are other options. The Junior Achievement non-profit organization’s finance park and “JA Biztown” gives students the opportunity to visit a mini-city for day or week long simulations where they are assigned jobs, receive a paycheck and can purchase essential items like groceries just as if they were living in the real world.
“The goal of Junior Achievement’s Financial Capability programs is to empower students with the confidence to make decisions regarding earning, spending, and saving. What little education students receive on this topic traditionally focuses on very one-way methods of delivery,” said Paul Kappel, Jr., president and CEO of the Central Maryland location.
At their site called “JA Biztown” students have the chance to work at store fronts named after real businesses like KPMG, Wells Fargo, Cox Media Group, a credit union and even Walmart often funded by the companies themselves. Each of these corporations serve as partners with the Junior Achievement non-profit to support the financial success of the youth.
“Students that participate in Junior Achievement, with partners such as Truist, get to apply what they have learned at JA Finance Park.This includes decisions related to income, expenses, savings, and credit. And a strategic partnership with Baltimore County Schools ensures over 8,000 seventh grade students a year will have access to this vital programming,” said Kappel.
On their website, JA Finance Park is described as, “an innovation in experiential education designed to engage students for life and work in the real world… is a public/private nonprofit collaboration between our region’s school systems, businesses, educators and volunteer mentors who come together to inspire, guide and teach students how to be financially capable and ready to take on their futures.”
The organization welcomes off-duty teachers, former finance professionals and educational enthusiasts to help facilitate activities on site. Their involvement helps participants gain exposure to real life scenarios ranging from entrepreneurs to corporate employees and other members of the workforce.
“My experience was not only informative; it was also intriguing, fun and realistic,” said Colin Bast, a middle school student at Benjamin Tasker in Bowie, Md in a testimonial. “I was exposed to many things that I will need to know in order to live a successful life…like budgeting, banking, online banking, the various fields of careers, prioritizing and a lot of other useful information. It gave me a new level of respect for what adults like my parents have to do. The program gives you the benefit of understanding what it is you need to do in order to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself.”
The finance curriculum entails interactive lessons on not just income but investing, risk management, the difference between debit and credit in addition to how to maintain a budget with information tailored to elementary, middle and high school students. They have in person locations in D.C., Prince George’s County, Baltimore, Fairfax, Va., Landover, Md. and other states across the country.
“My experience with Junior Achievement (JA) has consistently been positive throughout all areas of planning and execution. The flexibility of staff and their volunteers really makes the financial literacy experience an incredible one,” said Casey Siddons, a teacher at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, Md. “Regarding the student experience, the JA in a Day program gives students the chance to experience financial simulations that get them thinking about finance in real world terms. Finally, the impact on my students is certainly a positive one – each year, I have consistently seen students who have talked about their JA experience throughout the year, especially during economics and social studies lesson sequences.”
If you are interested in registering your child, they offer summer camp programs and welcome school groups throughout the academic year. Those who are interested can visit https://jausa.ja.org to find out more about the closest location.