By Sarah Beauchemin

Our education system teaches students math, science and English.

But what about teaching financial literacy? How can we prepare kids for the real world and teach them critical skills like how to get a job, start a business, and manage money?

Junior Achievement (JA) is a global organization whose mission is to empower young people to own their economic success. Since 1950, JA of San Diego County has provided life-changing programs to more than 793,000 youth to foster an understanding of how the real world works. To ensure youth are prepared for their future, JA teaches students how to get a job, start a business and how to manage money.  This year, JA of San Diego served nearly 61,000 students, K-12, including 15,000 5th graders at the popular McGrath Family JA BizTown.

Tara Michener, VP of Community Relations and Development at JA, explained how generous community grants have greatly assisted in providing these programs to local youth. In particular, SDG&E’s grant has allowed JA to “Highlight our mission to impact nearly 61,000 students this year in K-12 grades throughout San Diego. Thank you for giving Junior Achievement a voice and making a positive impact on San Diego’s nonprofit organizations.”

Photo: JA’s greatest assets are our volunteers.

JA’s role in the San Diego community is now more vital than ever — California recently earned an “F” grade in teaching students about financial literacy, and is one of eleven states that have few requirements, or none at all, for personal finance education in our high school.

That’s pretty unsettling.

We took a closer look at the popular McGrath Family JA BizTown. It is bustling mini-city lined with real San Diego businesses. The San Diego Humane Society, Mission Federal Credit Union, SDG&E, and The Super Dentists are just a few of the “BizTown Shops” where students are “employed” for the day.

Witnessing the dynamics of fifth graders successfully running their own economy — buying goods and services from one another, depositing their paychecks, and actively problem-solving — is electrifying.  It’s a true testament to their capabilities and intelligence.

Students learning how to create a budget at Mission Fed JA Finance Park.

Students prepare rigorously for JA BizTown. Prior to their visit, students must “interview” for the job. Each shop employees a “CEO,” “CFO” and staff positions.

Once they arrive in BizTown, each student:

  • Works and takes breaks in assigned shifts
  • Earns two paychecks, opens a bank account, pays taxes, and is challenged to earn a profit in their business. They must spend their hard earned money, which gives them a sense of how an economy works
  • Takes out a business loan with coworkers and pays it back at the end of the day
  • Goes to the voting poll
  • Participates in a staff meeting to answer questions such as “Are we presenting ourselves as leaders of the community?” and “Is everyone on the team doing their job?”

Omar Perez served as JA BizTown’s elected mayor during Rose Elementary School visit.  He talked about the challenges of the day. “One of my employees was on break and I had to do her job when a customer came in — that was hard,” he said. “It took a little while, but we figured it out.” He added that one reason he interviewed to be mayor was because his parents taught him how to pay taxes, and he felt qualified to manage the city’s money.

Students give McGrath Family JA BizTown a “thumbs-up.”

Another student spoke of the lessons she learned while working as an Energy Detective at the SDG&E shop in JA BizTown. Hailey Irwin, of Ashley Falls Elementary, said she learned how important it is to educate businesses about saving energy and money.  It was her job to award one of the 21 JA Shops with the “Uses Least Energy Award” at the end of the day.

“I told students how they could save energy by turning off the lights, computers, radio, or televisions when leaving a room,” said fifth grade student Irwin.  “I also reminded them to avoid using big appliances between 12noon and 7PM.”

Rose Elementary teacher Carrie Cox, who has been taking students to BizTown for eight years, said, “The kids absolutely look forward to BizTown every year — they do not, under any circumstances, want to miss it.”

It’s clear that JA’s passion for empowering financial literacy is helping to create the next generation of economically informed, successful young men and women.

JA depends on financial support and volunteers to inspire and prepare the next generation of leaders.  Please help them build a better tomorrow by visiting:

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