If you are of a certain age, the very mention of Junior Achievement conjures up some distinct memories.
“A lot of people reading this article remember the times when they went out and knocked on their friends’ doors,” said Nita Cook, executive director of Junior Achievement (JA) of North Louisiana. “I specifically remember that my father bought envelopes that were already pre-addressed for the utilities. That was one product. George Fritze actually brought back from his Lake Bistineau camp an aluminum milk carton holder that he had since he sold those when he was in JA back in the day.”
Junior Achievement began in Shreveport in 1964 with the JA Company Program. High school students met after school to learn about entrepreneurship. Students would learn how to write a business plan, how to understand the need for a product and come up with something to fill that need.
“They would open their business,” Cook said. “They would elect the CEO, the CFO and the sales people in their company, the marketing people, just like a real company is structured. Then they would sell a product and either come out with a profit or loss.”
Entrepreneurship has changed a lot since 1964, and so has Junior Achievement. JA USA will celebrate its centennial in January. Cook said JA has 107 active areas across the U.S. and is active in 116 countries throughout the world.
“Our mission is to empower young people to own their economic success,” Cook said. “We do that by bringing mentors in the classroom to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in what is now a global economy.”
Junior Achievement has developed programs that start in Kindergarten and continue through high school. Grade-school students are introduced to the basics of economics and learn how their economy expands beyond themselves to their family, their community, their city, region and nation.
This year, elementary students who have completed JA Our Region or JA Our Nation can compete as entrepreneurs in the JA Hot Chocolate Challenge. Students will work in teams to write a business plan, make a budget, construct a hot chocolate stand and market and sell their hot chocolate. At the end of the program, each team will submit a financial statement.
Middle-school students learn principles of budgeting and where they fit in today’s global economy. In eighth grade, JA students participate in a job-shadowing program where they get a first-hand look at careers that interest them.
In high school, students learn the elements of career success, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. They also discover more about entrepreneurship by learning how to develop an idea into a business plan. For the past three years, JA has partnered with the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program at BRF.
“We have the curriculum; EAP provides the volunteers to teach it,” Cook said. “Students come up with an idea and write a business plan. But a successful product launch is not the end goal. The point is that students understand the components of becoming an entrepreneur. They don’t have to come up with an idea that can come to fruition. That’s not the most important part.”
Opportunities do exist for students who want to take their ideas further. JA partners with the Brees Dream Foundation in the Trust Your Crazy Idea Challenge. Students who complete the in-class curriculum, complete their business plans and show interest in learning more can participate in the JA Idea Accelerator Workshops, hosted by Cohab. Students work after school to perfect their plans and their product pitches. Students then have the opportunity to advance to the Trust Your Crazy Idea Challenge, where they can compete for scholarships to continue their education.
So, how does Junior Achievement get this curriculum into the schools? Through volunteers just like you. Like me, for instance. I just completed my first session as a JA volunteer mentor. I taught the JA Career Success curriculum at Caddo Career and Technology Center. It sounded a little intimidating at first. I had not been in a high school classroom since… well, since I was in high school. JA’s tried-and-true curriculum takes the edge off, though, by preparing you for each and every session. The rest is up to you. And that, Cook said, is the point of the volunteer mentor approach.
“The reason Junior Achievement doesn’t just send out the kits to the teachers to teach is because kids learn different when a mentor comes in the classroom,” she said. “Our mentors don’t have to have an expertise in every part of life, just as we’re not asking the students to. These mentors are going to come in and bring their areas of expertise. But then they are going to bring their life knowledge and maybe even the story of the time they failed and where it got them to.”
Volunteering is no sweat. JA trains every volunteer and equips them with a kit that has everything the volunteer will need in the classroom, except a willing spirit and an open mind. And the classroom teacher is always there to support the volunteer. In the end, it’s a small investment of your time and effort to impact the lives of a classroom full of students. You never know where that spark of inspiration can lead them.
“We hope that students, through their mentors, understand that they need to take responsibility of their education, to take ownership of it,” Cook said. “While adults will continue to encourage them, it’s really up to them to make that decision. We encourage students to set goals. The reality is you have to set short, medium and long-term goals in order to get to where you want to be in life.
“It’s not rocket science. Having a successful life is not rocket science. It’s all laid out there for you. But kids need adults to show them how to make good choices.”
To learn more about Junior Achievement and how you can get involved as a volunteer, visit the website at www.janla.org.