BY KAT BRAZ
BizTown buzzes with activity as middle schoolers engage in an experiential learning program that allows them to run community businesses, receive paychecks, conduct bank transactions and purchase goods and services. The daylong visit to Junior Achievement’s interactive, simulated community is the culmination of an integrated teacher-led curriculum that teaches financial literacy and work and career readiness.
“It’s an opportunity for students to model good citizenship in addition to learning about personal budgeting, managing a business and exploring career paths,” says Resa Hodnett, capstone manager at Greater Lafayette JA. “Prior to arriving at BizTown, the students have learned about business operating expenses, how payroll works, how to manage their credit and their checkbook, and they’ve applied for a job. Arriving at BizTown is like their first day on the job.”
Storefronts lining the mini Main Street, located inside the James Kirby Risk Family Junior Achievement Learning Center at the Lafayette Family YMCA, bear signage of area companies that sponsor the program including Kirby Risk, Purdue Federal Credit Union, Arconic, Wabash National, IU Health Arnett, State Farm and Freckles Graphics.
Each branded storefront represents its respective company, so a medical facility is designed differently than an insurance office. The students are assigned specific roles within each company (e.g., CEO, CFO, designer, engineer, sales associate, clerk) and work together as a team to run the business. Community volunteers, including some from the respective sponsor businesses, coach students throughout the day.
“BizTown is an opportunity for our partner businesses to build their workforce pipeline over time,” Hodnett says. “These students are getting their first look at the types of jobs available within their community. Sponsorship support enables JA to deliver our Indiana State Board of Education-approved programming free to the schools. Teachers can have confidence that the content correlates to the core curriculum and students learn they can stay in their community and have a really fun job.”
The space is dual-purpose, serving as BizTown for fifth and sixth graders and as Finance Park for lder students, highlighting some different sponsor businesses. When seventh through ninth graders visit Finance Park, each student is assigned a persona with a specific job tied to an annual salary and other varying factors, such as a spouse or partner, children, credit card debt or education debt. The students learn more in-depth finance skills, such as making a monthly budget, understanding their debt-to-income ratio and applying for credit.
“We make the students save at least 2 percent of their net monthly income, which for some of them can be a challenge,” Hodnett says. “They start talking about jobs in different industries and average salaries for different positions. It’s a great time for them to start thinking about career pathways. The job they want might require a college degree or perhaps they’d rather go into the trades. Experiencing Finance Park helps start those conversations.”
While students might pass by these businesses every day in town, they often don’t understand all the various positions necessary to run a successful business. They may think a manufacturing facility only offers jobs in manufacturing or only doctors and nurses work in health care. The BizTown and Finance Park simulations demonstrate the range of positions offered within a single company.
“When students pass by a manufacturing facility, we want them to understand there are marketing, human resources, administrative and quality control jobs within those walls,” says Jen Edwards, executive director of Greater Lafayette JA. “We’re trying to help students understand that if they want to be a nurse, they don’t necessarily have to work in a hospital. They could work at a school, a small family practice or even a manufacturing facility. We want them to understand all the different potential pathways there are with different types of employers.”
JA is an international nonprofit founded in 1919 in Springfield, Massachusetts. J. Kirby Risk championed bringing JA to Greater Lafayette in 1956. The organization provides free supplemental K-12 programming that focuses on entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy. The in-school programming is delivered by community volunteers who are recruited and trained by JA. During the 2020-2021 school year, nearly 500 Greater Lafayette JA volunteers served more than 7,000 students in six different school corporations.
“Each program builds off one another,” Edwards says. “In JA Ourselves, kindergarteners learn about individual choices, the importance of saving and giving and how they contribute to their family. JA Our Families for first graders explores family members’ jobs and contributions to the well-being of the family and the community. In JA Community, second graders learn about other jobs and businesses in the community, paying taxes and how voting works.”
Through its programming, JA empowers young people to own their future economic success by enhancing the relevancy of education. The business concepts covered in JA prepare students for economically independent futures based on strong economic knowledge and solid personal financial management skills. A 2016 survey found that when compared to the general public, JA alumni have higher levels of educational attainment, career satisfaction, financial capability, entrepreneurial activity and household income.
“I truly believe we are making an impact on these students and preparing them for their future,” Edwards says. “We are fortunate to have sponsorship support from our community partners who work alongside us to develop this next generation of community leaders.” ★
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Volunteer for JA
Contact the JA office at 765-313-9586 or email Jen Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org
Restaurant sponsor needed
JA is actively searching for a local business to sponsor the restaurant space for BizTown and Finance Park. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Jen Edwards at email@example.com
Book the space
The JA facility is available to host community events, corporate trainings and small conferences. The space is free to use and is equipped with A/V technology. Contact Jen Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.