A 5th grader runs to the bank to deposit his paycheck after a long day at work. He gazes at all the open stores, contemplating where he will spend his earnings. He waves to his coworker as he walks past all the local businesses: every business woven together to bring to life a miniature, functioning economy. This is just a glimpse of JA BizTown.
Junior Achievement will launch a $500,000 fundraising campaign in Alachua County to bring a JA BizTown Mobile experience, presented by CAMPUS USA Credit Union, to Alachua County 5th graders. This mini city is already a reality in Tampa, serving 12 counties in the area, but it is too far of a distance to serve our Alachua County students.
JA BizTown simulates adulthood for students. Each business is locally sponsored with every business’s authentic appearance and logo. In this community, students get the opportunity to take on roles in real businesses and apply what they learn in the classroom to a day in the world of an adult.
These roles range from CEO or CFO to town mayor. Students can work as sales clerks and create window-front displays to attract customers; as reporters interviewing people in the community about breaking news; or as the mayor meeting with business leaders to discuss the local economy. While each student focuses on their role in their business, they earn money that they can use to buy things, save or donate within the town.
Each business in JA BizTown Mobile will be modeled after an existing company like CAMPUS USA Credit Union or other local businesses.
Koss Olinger, a local wealth management company, will take part in creating a storefront in JA BizTown. Kirk Klein, who is a managing partner in the business and a JA regional board member, said since his work revolves around finance, he sees how important it is for children to learn about money at a young age.
As he volunteered at JA BizTown, he noticed how the children began to understand the importance of making money and spending their money wisely.
“It’s always interesting to see how they spend it or how they don’t spend it,” he said. “As an entrepreneur, and someone who knows that the only way to have a strong economy and a strong city is to help everyone succeed, to whatever extent that means, I just feel like it’s almost an obligation for me and my organization to help with this cause.”
By helping children become financially literate and figuring out where they fit in the economy, Klein said, Junior Achievement allows them to see what their future could look like and how they could have an impact in their jobs.
The skills a student learns at JA BizTown could be a defining factor or create a pivotal moment for their future, Klein said as he recalled an experience he had with a fifth-grader while volunteering at JA BizTown.
There was a girl who had to add some numbers up during her shift. She wasn’t really the best at math and she admitted she wasn’t really good at anything, Klein said. He realized she probably didn’t receive a lot of positive reinforcement, so he told her she was doing a great job. This experience inspired him to take the last 10 minutes of the program to say something positive to everyone working in the area where he was volunteering. Spending time with these students and encouraging them can really influence their future, he said.
His company will sponsor a storefront for five years at JA BizTown. Each company applying to sponsor a storefront in the program commits to a five-year period of service.
“If you look at that five-year period and how many kids are going to go through that program, that’s a lot of kids you can impact,” he said.
Each participating business can send one or two volunteers to help these students get organized and to answer any questions they might have during the program, Klein said. The children are prepared; the volunteers simply guide them through their day.
Any business can apply to have a storefront in the program, he said, big or small – anyone who feels a calling to make an impact and help these children learn about our society and economy.
Some of the students wrote about their experiences after they attended JA BizTown.
One fifth-grader from Shell Elementary School wrote, “I see what my parents go through everyday… now I know how to use a checkbook and deposit money.”
“I liked having important responsibilities and learning how to deal with money and computers,” wrote another Shell student. “This really helped me figure out what I want to do in the future.”
Another Shell student wrote about how the best part of their day was the award they received from the mayor during the program and the speech they delivered to the rest of the students.
This learning experience allows students to be proud of what they have learned in class by applying it to real life circumstances and accomplishing new things. Local businesses, individuals and foundations are encouraged to take part in supporting this impactful program, whether it’s a storefront sponsorship investment or other fundraising opportunities.
This project, presented by CAMPUS USA Credit Union and hosted by the Cade Museum, is projected to open for students in Alachua County during the 2019-2020 academic years.