Years ago when I worked in banking, a co-worker and I spent several weeks volunteering in a local high school classroom. The goal? To teach kids about the banking business. It was a great experience for the kids and an equally great experience for my coworker and me.
The program we participated in is called Junior Achievement, or JA for short. JA works hard to help kids of all ages prepare for adult life. They do this from a financial and career perspective to teach kids financial literacy and Financial Independence basics. It's a subject that's lacking in the U.S. education system, and JA plays a crucial role in filling that gap.
What Is Junior Achievement?
Junior Achievement was founded in 1919 by three prominent businessmen: Theodore Vail, Horace Moses, and Murray Crane.
- Vail was the president of the American Telephone & Telegraph.
- Moses was the president of Strathmore Paper Company.
- Crane was involved with his father’s business, Crane Paper Company. He later entered politics and served as Governor of Massachusetts. In 1904, he was appointed United States Senator for the state of Massachusetts.
The goal of Junior Achievement's founders? To help kids thrive in the world of industrialism that was sweeping the United States at the time.
JA started as an after-school program focused on teaching kids about business. However, in 1975 the company took the JA program to the classroom and shifted focus to help prepare middle school students for the world of business.
How Has Junior Achievement Changed Over The Years?
Over the last forty-plus years, Junior Achievement has expanded its mission. The company now includes both in-school and after-school programs and events. In addition, JA now serves students of all ages, from kindergarten through high school.
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, JA employs over 80 on-site associates. There are also approximately 25 remote associates.
Junior Achievement also has over 100 other branch offices–at least one in every state. The programs in each local office are designed based on the local markets and their student needs.
JA is a company that people love to work for as well. The company has many long-term employees, with some staff working for JA for more than 40 years. That says a lot about the atmosphere at Junior Achievement.
Another cool fact about Junior Achievement? It was one of the first companies to bring computers into the classroom. And the company still works to bring new technology into student classrooms. The goal is to teach them to interact and learn in new ways.
But the heart of JA lies in its volunteers. JA boasts over 250,000 volunteers that reach a stunning 4.8 million students.
These volunteers are the backbone of JA as they allow Junior Achievement to teach students all they need to know about careers and money.
How Does Junior Achievement Help Students?
Junior Achievement programs help students prepare for life by focusing on three main pillars:
- Financial literacy
- Career readiness
Their goal? “To inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy,” as their website says. JA creates programs that help volunteers teach students more about business. In addition, they teach kids how companies function with products and services the people buy.
Students create products and services and learn how to create a mock startup business. Also, students as young as kindergarten start learning the fundamentals of financial literacy.
JA has fun, interactive programs that help kids learn about budgeting, saving, and spending. They get to create a budget, pay bills, and manage mock household finances.
Junior Achievement has added career readiness classes into the mix, too. They teach kids about different employment options including trade careers, business careers, or other employment choices.
JA works with local schools and other organizations to determine student needs for each particular area. Since each state and city’s kids have different needs, customization is vitally important to JA’s mission.
For that reason, JA associates and volunteers can work to create their own teaching content and events.
Programs For Every Student
Here’s a brief summary of some of the programs Junior Achievement has created for kids.
JA Be Entrepreneurial
This program coaches high school students who have started their own business or are thinking about starting their own business. JA Be Entrepreneurial functions via interactive classroom activities and real-life opportunities.
The end goal is to teach kids about business ownership.
The JA Biz Town course combines in-class learning with a day-long visit to a simulated town. Kids apply for jobs from managing restaurants, working in the bank, or even at the local news station. They get a paycheck, are eligible to vote, and have to perform financial-based errands and tasks.
JA BizTown primarily targets elementary school-aged kids.
JA Career Exploration Fair
The JA Career Exploration Fair is a one-day event where kids can learn about multiple types of careers in all fields. The fair is designed for kids of all ages to get them started thinking about what type of career might be best for them.
The JA Ourselves program uses storybook characters and hands-on activities. It helps younger kids learn about the role people play in the economy. They learn the impact of individual choices, the importance of saving and giving, and the value of work. This class is designed specifically for kindergarteners.
These are a sample of the programs of the over 20 different classes and events JA offers. They've created a whole program for the purpose of teaching students about life readiness. But the crux of Junior Achievement’s success lies in its volunteers’ hands-on approach.
How Can You Get Involved With Junior Achievement?
If you're considering volunteering with Junior Achievement, you might wonder how you can do so. Fortunately, JA provides an opportunity for every type of volunteer, even the young 20-somethings with zero teaching experience.
Junior Achievement has designed its programs to fit every type of volunteer. It’s a true turnkey system where they’ve outlined every program for you.
The content provided is written in a relatable way and encourages a hands-on approach to learning and teaching. It’s not only sitting in the classroom and listening to teachers talk.
Instead, JA’s program curriculum uses conversation starters and “up-and-around” activities to engage kids and prevent boredom.
For example, the budgeting curriculum has “stations” where kids can learn what (and how much) it costs to live. They'll learn to buy groceries, pay utility bills, and manage home finances.
Students get so involved in the details that it gives them a real-life picture of what their parents go through to care for them. In fact, kids have commented after taking the course that they have a much larger appreciation for their parents’ hard work.
JA designs the classes to encourage volunteers to share personal and professional experiences and examples. The idea behind this is that using stories from your life engages the students and makes them want to learn more. It also helps them make a personal connection to the volunteer (you.)
Nearly everyone has had experiences that have taught them a thing or two about work, money, and life. Using those experiences to teach and help the kids avoid your mistakes is a great way to prepare them for real life.
Varying Volunteer Options
Volunteer opportunities and experiences with JA vary widely. There are group and individual needs. In addition, they have one-off volunteer opportunities as well as ongoing ones. Some classes run every week, some need regular in-class volunteers, and some are one time, day-long events.
Junior Achievement has classes and opportunities for kids of all ages, too. Whether you want to teach kindergarteners, high schoolers, or somewhere in between, JA has ways you can help.
Getting involved as a Junior Achievement volunteer is easy. Simply visit the Junior Achievement website and find the “Get Involved” button in the upper right-hand corner.
After you type in your ZIP code, the site will direct you to a local JA office near you. The local office website will have its own “Volunteer” button. Click on it to learn more about Junior Achievement volunteer opportunities near you.
We encourage you to learn more about Junior Achievement either by listening to the podcast link above or talking with your local JA office.
If we can help kids learn more about financial literacy basics, and encourage them to participate in their community, imagine what a great place this world could be.
What do you think about the Junior Achievement programs? Would you consider becoming a volunteer? Did you participate in JA as a student? We’d love to hear your thoughts about Junior Achievement.
We had the honor of having two Junior Achievement executives on the show. If you'd like to learn more about Junior Achievement check it out.