Financial literacy, job preparedness, and entrepreneurship – for more than a century, developing these business skills have been the foundation of Junior Achievement’s work with young people. With programs that span the country, Junior Achievement today engages more than 4.8 million kids each year, relying on close to 250,000 classroom volunteers from various backgrounds, including business professionals, students, parents, and retirees.
Here in Central Virginia, Junior Achievement is led by Jennifer Boyle, its president and CEO. She caught us up on the latest with JA in the commonwealth.
What is Junior Achievement of Central Virginia’s core mission?
Junior Achievement of Central Virginia’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Junior Achievement is known for its lasting impact. That’s because all of our elementary, middle, and high school programs are designed to bring learning to life, reinforce new concepts with hands-on experiences and support the development of core competencies needed for an ever-changing economy. Our programs bridge learning to real-world complexities by driving student engagement and fostering self-motivation.
We present broad career exposure, enabling students to more confidently manage their career aspirations and personal financial futures through practice with specific job functions, career planning and wealth-building. These essential skills give students confidence and leadership development, but they also contribute to the vitality of our community and the availability of a well-educated workforce.
Each year, we impact approximately 25,000 students throughout the region. Although we transitioned to virtual programming in 2020-2021, we were still able to reach 17,000 students.
What problem does Junior Achievement of Central Virginia address? Can you characterize the extent of the problem locally?
Junior Achievement of Central Virginia addresses many issues young people face as they plan for their future. Our programs help students learn how to budget, save and invest. We help them search for careers, align their education with their career interests, learn soft skills and build social capital. This is all done through the help of volunteers who manage Junior Achievement programs, serving as role models and mentors.
Our shared future depends on how prepared today’s students are to navigate the realities they will face as adults. Lasting change is only possible if the people most likely to benefit are prepared with the information and skills necessary to navigate a changing landscape. Education – specifically around financial literacy and career readiness – is an equalizer in the world of opportunity.
Locally, Virginia faces many of the challenges our nation faces right now – lack of educational resources, concern for children’s mental health and well-being, economic hardship and an ever-changing job market. Junior Achievement doesn’t solve these problems, but what we can do is teach young people how to build confidence, learn new concepts and access resources, all to help them navigate a successful life beyond high school.
What do you think most people don’t realize or understand about these issues?
COVID-19 may have changed everyone’s plans and priorities, but what it hasn’t changed is that young people still need to learn how to manage their money; they still need to consider education and career options; they still need to learn soft skills; they still need to build social capital – and they still need supportive adults to help them do these things. Students are eager to learn how to become economically empowered and choose careers that help them reach their goals.
Many people don’t realize that in 2012, the Virginia Department of Education enacted a graduation requirement of one credit hour in economics and personal finance. Students are learning these important concepts in school, and Junior Achievement’s programs are enhancing and strengthening these lessons. Our programs align with the Virginia Standards of Learning.
Last July, the non-profit American Public Education Foundation released “The Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy” focusing on K-12 financial education in all 50 states. The report card grades each state’s financial literacy instruction based on state legislation, graduation requirements, standards and curriculum. Virginia was one of only five states to receive an “A” grade for mandating personal financial education across all grades and requiring a stand-alone personal finance course for high school graduation.
Junior Achievement supports factors that have gone into these statewide accomplishments that play a role in student success.
What kind of work do volunteers/donors do to help Junior Achievement of Central Virginia?
The value of Junior Achievement’s programs is heightened because volunteers teach them. Volunteers help bring JA lessons to life and strengthen students’ knowledge and skills. In a typical year, we have approximately 2,000 amazing people generously give their time and talent with one goal in mind: to provide young people in Central Virginia with the knowledge and tools to prepare them for success. We work with volunteers from all walks of life – business professionals, tradespeople, retirees, high school and college students. Educators love to have people from the community interact with their students and bring diverse voices into the classroom.
Volunteers can make a difference by facilitating programs in classrooms or mentoring high school students at Junior Achievement (JA) Finance Park, a field trip experience designed to provide students with the opportunity to experience and prepare for careers and their financial futures. A multi-unit classroom curriculum culminates in a four-hour field trip experience at JA Finance Park. Students become adults for the day – exploring careers, paying bills and learning to save and invest. JA Finance Park is a “mini-city,” housing a variety of storefronts that correlate to the personal budget lines each student must manage during their visit.
As these young people enter the doors of JA Finance Park, they take on a life scenario: an avatar with a career, salary, credit score, debt, a family and financial obligations. Students make their way through various phases of the day, including budgeting, research, shopping, and paying bills. Guided by adult volunteer mentors, the simulation helps students grasp the implications of their “financial decisions” as they work towards a balanced budget by the end of their visit. Support from JA volunteers allows these young people to experience the challenges of making real-life financial decisions that will lay the foundation for how they approach their financial responsibilities in the future.
Donors are who make it possible for Junior Achievement to impact thousands upon thousands of young people each year. JA donors understand that today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce and that investing in financial literacy and career exploration has a long-lasting impact.
If $100,000 fell from the sky tomorrow, how would you spend it?
This is a great question as we just experienced this fortunate event! A very generous donor recently provided Junior Achievement of Central Virginia with a $100,000 contribution at the end of 2021. We are thankful for the advocacy of a JA board member and our former vice president of development in building and fostering our relationship with this charitable partner. This gift will provide essential learning experiences for thousands of students. As we enter into a new strategic planning process in 2022, this gift will also give us the ability to focus on how best to allocate resources in order to grow and increase our impact as we emerge from the pandemic.