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Junior Achievement’s Innovative Program Gives Students Real-World Experience

Photography Provided

Learn to lease a car. Create a newspaper by selling ads and writing editorials. Maybe even get a ticket from the police? All in a day for students at Junior Achievement’s BizTown, a 7,000 square foot mini-city with 16 shops, “built for kids and run by kids,” says Louisville Executive Vice President Debbie Dalton.

Junior Achievement is 100 years old nationally this year. The organization works in more than 100 communities nationwide, reaching almost 5 million students, and is worldwide in about 100 countries as well, with 10 million participants.

Louisville’s chapter is 60 years old, founded by James W. Robinson in 1949. Robinson and his father J.D. Robinson owned Robinson Nugent, a Southern Indiana electronics company. Robinson and his wife, Phyllis, gave $1M in 2005 to name the building where BizTown, as well as JA Finance Park, are now located, at 1401 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd, The James W. Robinson Center for Freedom of Enterprise

The program focuses on three “pillars of success” – financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship.

“We decided about 15 years ago to focus on these touchpoints with students, and we offer training and how to present,” Dalton says.

There are various programs to fit each level of development, from Kindergarten thru 12th grade. The Louisville chapter is in 15 counties, reaching 73,000 students, in about 300 Louisville Metro and Southern Indiana and including surrounding counties such as Bullitt, Spencer and Oldham. JA is in every JCPS public school and works with private and parochial schools and with home school organizations as well.

Describing the program as “having an idea of what you want to be, and have a plan B,” Dalton uses the examples of sports – if you can’t be a player, you could be an agent or a physical therapist, or if not an actor, then director at a nonprofit.

“Find what you’re good at, like working with your hands, or working with groups,” she says.

JA Inspire is a career fair for eighth-ninth graders held at Kentucky Fair and Expo Center. More than 90 businesses participate, including EMS, police, Metro Services, non-profits and educational organizations. There are 100 career stations and mentors to offer advice. Students can ask questions such as if a degree is needed to be a firefighter or what jobs are available in IT, not just video games but also preventing identify theft, for example.

“Again, have a plan, but have a plan B,” Dalton says.

Costs are about $500 to get Junior Achievement programs in classrooms, at no charge to schools. Donations come from companies and individuals and from events like bowling, pop a shot and cornhole tournaments. There’s also an annual 5K race in downtown Elizabethtown to benefit JA programs in Hardin County, honoring the late educator Pat French.

This past March was JA’s annual Kentuckiana Business Hall of Fame induction dinner at the Kentucky International Convention Center, to honor leadership in economic development in Greater Louisville. This year’s honorees include Dr. Wayne Mortensen of Mortensen Dental, Phoebe Wood of Companies Wood and developer William Weyland of Weyland Ventures.

Volunteers help keep costs down and are an important part of the program. JA has about 2000 volunteers each year.

“Volunteers are our secret sauce, they make JA possible,” Dalton says. “They explain lessons and give real-world experience, go into classrooms, stay for lunch with kids. Kids can ask questions, things they might not ask a parent or teacher. We’re creating the next generation of workers, so it is really relevant to the business community.”

In fact, Junior Achievement was founded by business leaders in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1919. Horace Moses of Strathmore Paper Co., along with Theodore Vail of AT&T and also U.S. Senator Murray Crane. Moses founded JA to help teens moving from rural to industrial-based jobs.

Sam Swope Auto is a lead sponsor of Louisville’s JA BizTown since 2004.  There are 16 business sponsors, including Stockyards Bank, WDRB, Papa John’s and UPS.

JA Finance Park is sponsored by Chase Bank and also by Texas Roadhouse, AT&T, Delta Dental, GE Appliance. Ford, United Auto Workers (UAW) and Carpenters & Millwrights Union offer information about apprenticeships.

“Finance Park is about budgeting, learning concepts in schools and then come to Finance Park to apply them,” Dalton says.

In BizTown, kids get a scenario and follow it, from learning to pay business loans to having a job. Each business has a CEO and CPA. Students get a salary and paychecks, learn how to manage money, buy products and pay rent. There are jobs like meter reader, UPS delivery, or radio DJ.

“We meet people years later who tell us they were mayor of BizTown,” Dalton says.

Other businesses include Ford, Courier Journal, Kentucky Society of CPAs, Alpha Media, Kroger and Marshall Realty. BBC makes sure businesses are in compliance. Louisville Community Foundation teaches corporate philanthropy. Police even issue tickets (for stepping on the grass). WDRB films the activities.

There are even entry-level jobs, starting at delivering pizza, or middle manager jobs at GE Appliance, designing a dishwasher. A CEO may have kids in their scenario, to learn to plan to budget for daycare. Texas Roadhouse teaches about costs to go out to eat, Actors Theatre about entertainment on a budget, AT&T with unlimited text, University of Louisville about continuing education. Kentucky One Health teaches wellness and Swope about having a car or using the bus.

“It’s fun,” Dalton says. “We go in, look at products, they do sales presentations, it’s fun to see how their minds work.”

There was even a camp extension of BizTown this past summer. Kids ran the city for two days, giving hands-on experience for ages 9-12, learning entrepreneurship, job interviews, marketing, customer service and working in teams.

For more information or to make a donation, visit Junior Achievement online at jaky.org.

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