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Junior Achievement celebrates 50 years

Program helps teach financial literacy to youths

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 06:00 am

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Junior Achievement celebrated its 50th anniversary last week in the most appropriate way possible: with great economy and much attention to numbers.

It was business as usual for the worldwide organization’s local office. JA, as it’s commonly known, is committed to providing financial education to primary and secondary students. It does this through in-school presentations and through experiential, hands-on programs.

It’s been doing this in the Edmonton area and throughout Northern Alberta and the NorthWest Territories since 1964. Victoria Anderson, communications co-ordinator for the local office, said that these last few years have seen a lot of expansion making this an exciting period for them. They hope that growth will continue too.

“Up until three years ago, we were only reaching about 12,000 students. Last year, we reached 20,000. This year, we’re on track to reach 27,000.”

The goal for the 2014-15 school year is to make the 32,000 mark.

JA is all about giving students the important lessons about making and taking care of money that they wouldn’t otherwise get in a typical school curriculum.

“It’s financial literacy but also, on top of that, work readiness, business leadership and entrepreneurship. Those are the four main pillars that we want to focus on and give students real life skills that they don’t necessarily learn in school, just to make it so that they’re more ready to take on the global economy when they graduate.”

It originally started with its afterschool company program for students in grades 9 through 12 to come together and create and run a business for 18 weeks during the school year.

From there, it introduced junior high programs and now even includes sessions for elementary students, plus a few in-school programs for high schools.

Sally Rudakoff is a teacher at Lorne Akins Junior High School, one of the local schools that schedules in JA presenters on a periodic basis throughout the year. She has no shortage of praise for what its programs offer to her students.

“I honestly just think that it is a great program because it really gets into money management for students. A lot of kids don’t talk about that,” she stated. “I really think it gives them the necessary information to make choices.”

That’s good timing too, she continued, since junior high is when many teenagers start looking at finding their own jobs and setting up bank accounts or getting into investing.

“When I went to school, that wasn’t really talked about. We didn’t know about credit cards unless we talked to our families about that.”

The CALM, or Career and Life Management program, does include some lessons on budgeting but Rudakoff speculated that it might be too late by the time the students get to that class. JA can come into their lives earlier and also has the advantage of making an education about money approachable and interesting. The volunteer presenters are phenomenal, she continued.

Each session is an “open forum,” she said, where the students get to learn about budgeting, ask questions and play games.

“They make it a fun way to learn about money.”

Al Glaser is one of those volunteer presenters. He first got involved with the program 15 years ago and makes several of these presentations each year to a handful of schools across St. Albert. He said that he sees the difference that it makes in many of the young people in the audience learning about money matters.

“I see the kids get excited. They seem to enjoy it … it’s a lot of work,” he said of his three-and-a-half hour sessions. “I try to take them through a number of scenarios like what about credit cards, what’s a savings account, how can you invest your money in the stock market…”

What might seem like dry material often catches and keeps their attention. Daydreamers are rare in these sessions.

“I see the lights go on more than I see the lights go off.”

In conjunction with the anniversary, the local organization will be recognizing one JA champion a month for the rest of 2014. These are “People who are just really engaged and invested in Junior Achievement and have been a part of our history for the past 50 years,” Anderson noted. A major celebration will be held next year at the Alberta Business Hall of Fame.

JA is always looking for new volunteers as well.

People can find out more about the program through its website at www.janorthalberta.org.


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